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Study finds laws capping nurse mandatory overtime work

A new study finds that state legislated caps on mandatory overtime of nurses’ work hours work as intended but the study’s authors say the need for legislating such caps would be moot if facility leaders were progressive in their thinking about handling nurse scheduling.

The study, conducted by three nurses who teach nursing at the university level, examined data of 1,706 newly licensed registered nurses (NLRNs) working in metropolitan and rural areas in 34 states. The study is part of the RN Work Project, a 10-year study of NLRNs funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the purpose of learning more about nurses’ career patterns.

The state caps on nurses’ mandatory overtime study, published online in Nursing Outlook, found that state laws capping mandatory overtime work. In the states with regulations on mandatory overtime, 59 percent of NLRNs were less likely to work mandatory overtime than NLRNs working in unregulated states. Additionally, those working in regulated states worked an average of 50 fewer minutes per week than their colleagues in unregulated states.

State laws that cap mandatory overtime hours for nurses were put in place to ensure that facilities did not pile on overtime hours in addition to the long shifts nurses put in – a practice that has been found to increase medical errors and lessens nurse job satisfaction, said Sung-Heui Bae, RN, PhD, one of the authors of the study.

[See also: Texas, Pennsylvania prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses.]

While the study showed that legislation does impact mandatory overtime, there are better ways to deal with scheduling needs, said Carol Brewer, RN, PhD, a co-author of the study and co-director of the RN Work Project.

“There’s a lot of mechanisms for organizational leaders to use that can really cut down on the need for any kind of mandatory scheduling and that’s a leadership issue,” Brewer said. “When hospitals are well staffed and they don’t have a problem recruiting nurses and they don’t have high turnover … mandatory overtime as an issue is not as big a deal.”

The study also examined whether caps on mandatory overtime would lead to increased voluntary overtime. To the surprise of the researchers, they found no correlation between the two. Fifty percent of NLRNs did report working voluntary overtime hours in a typical work week but the decision to work voluntary overtime was positively associated with such things as workload, total number of hours worked and nurse age rather than pressure from managers to work overtime.

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.