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Is it legal to force a nurse to work mandatory overtime?

Nurses who work in New York might have questions about whether they may be forced to work overtime. There are limitations on the number of consecutive hours a nurse may work. Exemptions exist if certain circumstances are present. On-call time requires a nurse to be available to work by staying at the health care facility or in close proximity and may not be used in lieu of mandatory overtime.

A nurse may be required to work mandatory overtime in a health care disaster. An employer may need nurses to work treating disaster victims or maintain the needs of the health care facility. Disasters, under New York employment law, include circumstances where multiple individuals are injured, such a building collapse or a disease outbreak that hospitalizes many community residents. Any event that necessitates the presence of health care workers would qualify as a disaster situation.

Another situation where health care workers are not exempt from mandatory overtime is that in which the government at any level has declared a state of emergency. A patient care emergency may exist where the nurse's presence is critically needed. In connection with this category, the employer must make an effort to have overtime covered on a voluntary basis or secure nursing coverage by using all means available to them. The employer is not able to use this to cover staffing discrepancies at the facility. In addition, the employer must have a nurse coverage plan in force, and this exemption cannot be used in its place.

If a nurse believes mandatory overtime was ordered in a non-exempt situation, it may be beneficial to speak with an attorney. The attorney may review the situation to see if the employer followed mandated regulations. If not, the attorney may assist the health care worker to seek appropriate remedy.

Source: New York State Department of Labor, "Mandatory Nurse Overtime", October 24, 2014

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