In the early 20th century, poor working conditions in the United States prompted Progressive-era reformists to push for legal protections for employees in the workplace. Since that time, working conditions in the United States have improved dramatically. Today, every employee is guaranteed certain rights, though there are still certain situations where policies are left to the discretion of employers. For nurses in the United States, employee rights are slightly different than for many other professions.
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Like most employees in the United States, nurses are guaranteed a minimum wage by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). As of October of 2010, this minimum wage was £4.70 an hour. For salaried nurses, the yearly amount divided by the total number of hours worked must equal at least £4.70. There are also some states with a minimum wage law that is different than the federal standard. In these instances, it is the minimum wage that is most beneficial to the employee that is favoured. Thus, a nurse may make more than the federal minimum wage in some states, but will never make less.
Employees in the United States are also guaranteed overtime pay after 40 hours of work a week. After this time, employees must be paid regular wages plus one half for each additional hour worked. Due to the nature of some nursing jobs, however, there are sometimes exemptions from this right for nurses at residential care facilities and hospitals. Because of erratic working hours and necessarily longer shifts on certain weeks and shorter shifts on others, overtime pay is only awarded to these nurses after 80 hours in two weeks.
While many employees may feel entitled to breaks and meal periods, this is not a right guaranteed by the DOL. In fact, it is entirely up to employers to decide whether or not meal or break periods will be provided. The DOL does stipulate, however, that if short breaks of 5 to 20 minutes are provided, these periods of time must be paid. Meal breaks of half an hour or longer do not have to be paid.
Nurses have the right to non-discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government body guaranteeing this right. It states that no employee or applicant may be discriminated against due to "race, colour, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic information." Any nurse who believes that he has been discriminated against may file a claim with the EEOC, and employers may be subjected to civil or even criminal legal action.
Nurses also have the right to a certain degree of safety while on the job. It is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that sets safety regulations and monitors employers to ensure that measures are being taken for employee safety. For nurses, this includes protections against illnesses that nurses may be exposed to on the job. Any nurse that believes safety regulations are not being met should contact OSHA to file a formal complaint or to request an inspection.
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