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VA nurses claim the government violated wage and hour laws

Veterans in Massachusetts and elsewhere depend on VA hospitals to treat them after serving our country. The nurses who work at those hospitals may put in long hours to tend to their patients. Two nurses working for medical centers in another state claim that they were forced to work overtime without pay and placing the federal government in violation of its own wage and hour laws. Thirty-three similarly situated nurses have also joined the lawsuit.

The nurses allege that they are given View Alerts, which are sent electronically to doctors and nurses, requesting information concerning patients getting their primary care from a VA hospital. The nurses can receive alerts relating to as many as 900 patients, and they must be completed within two weeks or they are deleted from the system. If there are unfinished alerts, those who do not complete them are subjected to heavy discipline.

These alerts could be sent out at any time and contain pertinent patient information. One of the plaintiffs apparently spent an additional 20 hours per week responding to the alerts but was not compensated. The nurses claim that working overtime has negative connotations, including missing out on bonuses. Because the overtime was not officially ordered or approved, the VA contends that it is not legally obligated to pay the nurses for that time. The VA was apparently aware of the time being spent on the alerts because the system tracked it.

The wage and hour laws violation was originally filed in the Court of Federal Claims and was dismissed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision. According to the plaintiff's lawyer, the overtime the plaintiffs worked was induced because the nurses had an ethical obligation to complete the work and the VA knew it was happening. Aside from the plaintiffs seeking their unpaid overtime, they hope that the VA will realize the strain being placed on the employees and alleviate it going forward. Many businesses in Massachusetts and elsewhere are understaffed, which can force employees to work long hours; those who feel they are not being compensated in accordance with applicable wage and hour laws can research their legal options.

Source: cincinnati.com, "Nurses sue, say VA's not paying overtime", Rebecca Butts, Aug. 17, 2015

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