New Jersey’s hourly health care workers won a five year battle against non-ergonomic working shifts after the state passed a law that bars hospitals and nursing homes from instating mandatory overtime.
The law, which went into effect on Tuesday, February 17, 2004, affects hourly health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and in-home health care and includes nurses, nurses’ aides, pharmacists, therapists and technicians. The rule does not cover doctors.
Consumer groups as well as unions and the New Jersey State Nurses Association began pushing for a law against mandatory overtime in 1999, touting studies and reports that showed that the longer required shifts equated to greater mistakes by health care workers and riskier conditions for patients.
“The studies document [that] the combination of understaffing and excessive hours does contribute to patient deaths,” Jeanne Otersen, spokesperson for Health Professionals and Allied Employees, New Jersey’s largest nurses union said in an Associated Press article. However, a provision was also offered in the law for health care facilities in New Jersey to employ mandatory overtime in emergency situations.
While New Jersey’s State Department of Health and Senior Services is unsure of how readily all facilities will be able to comply with the new law due to current worker shortages, proponents of the law believe that some health care workers who previously left the profession due to the long hours could be lured back into their former professions.
Currently, the only other state with a law against mandatory overtime for health care workers is Washington although lawmakers in West Virginia recently passed a similar ban that is awaiting the state’s governor’s approval.