Nurses Stand to Lose Overtime Pay Under Bush Plan
Some RNs and LPNs could lose their overtime pay if a Bush administration plan goes into effect as soon as the fall.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is attempting to modernize its 50-year-old regulations defining exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for what were traditionally called "white-collar" employees. The proposed rules were posted in the Federal Register in March and the public comment period just closed.
The bottom line is that employees are considered exempt if they are paid on a salary basis (versus hourly); earn more than $425 a week; and/or work in a job where their primary duties involve managerial, administrative or professional skills.
The proposal, according to DOL, will clarify which job duties qualify for overtime pay (time and a half) and will help employers easily determine overtime entitlement for millions of workers whose status is currently unclear.
The current regulations use a series of "tests" to determine who is exempt from FLSA protection, including a complicated equation of how much time a person spends doing activities outside of their normal duties, and their educational path.
Under the new plan, employees must meet simpler requirements. In addition, the categories of workers have been broken down to include: executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees.
Nurses fall into the category of "learned professional," which is "typically characterized by possession of the appropriate academic degree for the particular profession," according to the Federal Register (March 31, 2003).
These employees have a "recognized professional status based on the acquirement of advanced knowledge and performance of work that is predominantly intellectual in character as opposed to routine, mental, manual, mechanical or physical work."
The proposed changes would raise the minimum pay level for which overtime eligibility is automatic. Under current rules, an employee earning only $155 a week can qualify as a white-collar employee not entitled to overtime pay. This plan would raise this minimum salary to $425 a week.
The proposal adds a special rule for "highly compensated" employees. Those who are paid $65,000 or more annually (and are in non-manual jobs) are exempt from overtime rules even if they don't meet all of the "test" requirements.
While the impact of this revision would be to increase the wages of 1.3 million lower-income workers and reduce the number of low-wage salaried workers currently being denied overtime pay, it would also increase the number of employees who no longer qualify for overtime
to 640,000, according to DOL. However, the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, put that number at 8 million.
The public comment period on the proposed regulations officially ended June 30. The New York Times July 1 edition reported that the DOL received tens of thousands of comments
. The paper also reported that a group of Democratic Senate and House members are urging the Bush administration to withdraw
the proposed changes.
Also speaking out against the new regulations are 10 nursing associations which claim that the changes could "exacerbate an already dangerous shortage of nurses,"
according to a news release from Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The group has asked DOL to discuss with the nursing community how the regulations can be modernized.
In a joint statement, the group says that nurses who are making more than the $65,000 limit qualifying for overtime may become dissatisfied with the situation, which could result in the loss of experienced nurses from the already dwindling pool.
"This regulation will very likely alter the working conditions and benefits or registered nurses in very significant ways," said AWHONN Executive Director Gail Kincaide in the release. She continued that the patients would ultimately feel the impact.
The other nursing associations joining the protest are: American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Nurse Practitioners, American Nephrology Nurses Association, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, Emergency Nurses Association, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, National Black Nurses Association Inc., and Nurse Practitioner in Women's Health.
To read the full proposal, go to http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/fedreg/p...003033101.htm.