Texas, Pennsylvania prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) is expected to sign into law by the end of August a bill that would prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses.

A similar law banning mandatory OT for nurses in Pennsylvania went into effect July 1st of this year.

Many states have varying degrees of restriction on overtime, but the common denominator is some level of protection for nurses who refuse to work in excess of an agreed-upon, posted schedule, said Janet Haebler, RN, associate director of State Government Affairs for the American Nurses Association.

The state bills and state nurses associations are focusing on involuntary versus voluntary OT, and not on prescriptions on number of hours worked, Haebler stressed. For example, a 15-hour shift in one department may be acceptable and not as strenuous as a 15-hour shift in an ICU department.

Nursing licenses deem that nurses will provide safe and competent care. Mandatory OT may jeopardize a nurse’s ability to provide that care, Haebler said. With these new laws in place, nurses will be able to refuse OT and not have to endure retaliation from the hospital or face the state board of nursing for neglect or abandonment of care.

Such legislation has historically been met with resistance from hospitals that are concerned about being dictated to on staffing decisions. States, however, are getting smarter, Haebler said. For instance, Texas incorporated its ban on mandatory OT into a broad-based staffing bill, the Safe Hospital Staffing Act.

State nurses associations are also working with hospitals to develop language in the bills that are more “palatable” for hospitals, said Haebler. Hospitals are slowly beginning to recognize that there is a direct correlation between staffing and patient outcomes, she added.

In Haebler’s opinion, workplace issues have, to some extent, caused the nursing shortage. Mandatory OT creates a potentially unsafe environment, which drives nurse burnout and flight from hospitals.

“Mandatory OT is not a new issue and the nursing shortage is not a new issue,” Haebler said. “We’ve been using a band-aid approach since the 1950s.” But these new state laws and other legislation should help break the cycle created by workplace issues of the last 50 years, she said.