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When nurses feel they can’t take breaks – and why it’s against the law

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2020 | wage and hour violations

Nurses have fast-paced, chaotic and demanding jobs. Especially if you work in a hospital setting, your work pulls you in many different directions – your patients need you all the time, and you feel it’s impossible to take a meal break or even rest during your shift. Your job is both physically and mentally demanding, yet the environment makes it hard to take care of yourself and your own needs – even to find time to eat a proper meal.

At first, you thought it was your sense of duty not to take breaks, as you are responsible for the health of your patients at all times. But you started to realize that not taking care of yourself poses a safety risk to your patients – they need a nurse who has her basic needs met, too. Skipping meals leads to low blood sugar, irritability, and a mind that is not as sharp.

What are the required meal and rest breaks?

Nurses commonly work 12-hour shifts – which according to California state law, makes a nurse eligible for a second meal break. Under the law, here are the required breaks employers must give nurses in California:

  • Nurses scheduled to work five or more hours have the right to at least a 30-minute meal break. Nurses cannot split the break – for example, they cannot take 20 minutes now and 10 minutes later – it must be continuous for 30 minutes.
  • Nurses who work more than 10 hours per day have the right to a second meal break of 30 minutes.
  • Nurses, like any other employee in California, have the right to 10-minute rest breaks every four hours. Employers must pay nurses for these breaks.

Do you have a claim against your employer?

Healthcare facilities and hospitals are notorious for understaffing their patient units, making nurses and staff feel like they can’t take a break at all. Nurses often put their patients before themselves, and many nurses do not admit that they skipped their breaks all day.

You know you are not the only nurse within a healthcare system or hospital that finds it impossible to take her breaks. If there are several of you in the same situation, filing a class action suit against the employer is one option to begin guaranteeing breaks.

If you’ve already brought the issue up to your manager or supervisor, and they haven’t done anything about it, it may be time to explore your legal options.