Many hospitals and medical facilities are using mandatory overtime for nurses and other healthcare professionals as a usual means of staffing their facilities, even though common sense as well as numerous studies supports the fact that long hours and sleep deprivation may prevent nurses from providing their patients with quality, error-free care. Even though the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not regulate this problem nearly many states do.

States which regulate or restrict overtime for nurses as of August, 2010:

AK     CT    IL    MD   MN    NJ    NH    NY

OR    PA    RI    TX    WA    WV   CA    MO

Negative Effects of Mandatory Overtime for Nurses:

  • Increases the risks of patient injury and death from medical errors due to physical and mental fatigue
  • May increase the length of patient stay in hospital due to lack of quality care
  • Increases the nursing shortage by driving nurses out of the profession due to:
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Loss of license due to increased risk of medical errors

Mandatory overtime for nurses is both a workplace, and a patient safety issue. Nurses are often required to work a total of twelve to sixteen hours, sometimes with as little as one hour’s notice. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report titled “To Err Is Human”, which estimates that 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of errors in their medical care.

A 2003 IOM report revealed that patient safety is threatened by the usual nursing environment in many hospitals and other medical facilities, also noting that the most serious threat was a result of the long hours worked by some nurses. In effect, mandatory overtime increases the likelihood of medical errors.

Nurses who are forced to work such long hours also find themselves with less quality time for their own families and other obligations. By forcing nurses to work, even when fatigued, sometimes placing their patient’s lives in jeopardy, mandatory overtime consequently places these exhausted nurses’ medical licenses and livelihoods on the line due to increased medical errors, as well as increasing their dissatisfaction with a job they cannot do to the best of their abilities.

Mandatory overtime for nurses became a major problem a result of the growth of managed care programs, even as Federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements declined. Deteriorating medical payments have led many hospital and medical facilities to demand more overtime as a means of staffing their facilities, which in turn led to many nurses leaving their chosen profession, further exacerbating the problem.

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not cover this dangerous practice (as of November 2010), sixteen states currently regulate or restrict mandatory overtime for those in the nursing field, including Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, California, and Missouri.

If you think you may have a case under the FLSA overtime laws, but are not sure, it is a good idea to contact a knowledgeable overtime lawyer who understands the states’ laws and will be able to advise you as to whether it’s in your best interest to pursue this course of action.

Have questions about your own situation? Contact us and we can give you more information and review your specific circumstances. You can submit your information using the convenient Case Evaluation Form, send an email or call Michael Lore.

Disclaimer: This information has been provided based on hypothetical scenarios and are provided for general informational purposes only, and should not be relied on, or considered as legal advice. Under no circumstances does this informational response create an Attorney-Client relationship.  Any Attorney-Client relationship must be entered into via a specific written agreement.