Can a healthcare facility mandate that an employee stay for an extra shift without notice and threaten to fire the employee if they do not stay?

I work as a nursing assistant for a nursing facility in NJ. I was hired full time without benefits for the 3-11 shift. At least 2-3 times a week, the charge nurse tells another worker or myself we have to stay to work an extra shift to cover a call-out from 11 pm – 7 am with less than an hour notice. When we inform the nurse we are unable to do so, they tell us they are “mandating” us to stay, and if we leave we will be fired. I am constantly forced to miss classes the next morning, or cancel appointments because of this. Is what they are doing legal and what are my rights in this situation?

Asked on August 31, 2011 New Jersey


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

I'm afraid that you may not have too many rights. That is unless you have a union agreement, employment contract, this action violates company policy, or your treatment constitutes some form of actionable discrimination. If you are an "at will" employee (and most of us are), your employer can hire/fire, promote/demote, increase /decrease salary /hours etc much as it deems fit - with or without notice. For your part, you can continue to work for your employer or not, your choice.

You should be aware however that some states do have restrictions on how many consecutive hours a nurse or doctor works. You should contact your state's department of labor or an employment law attorney to check if there is any relevant statute pertain to nursing assistants.

Note: If you are a non-exempt employee (i.e. hourly), you are to be paid overtime for any hours  over 40 that you work in a week.

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