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Limits on Mandatory Overtime Go into Effect in New Jersey in 2003

Limits on Mandatory Overtime Go into Effect in New Jersey in 2003
  • January 3, 2003

Legislation significantly limiting mandatory overtime for health care employees is scheduled to take effect for New Jersey acute care hospitals on January 1, 2003. Reportedly the first such in the country, the New Jersey law will allow health care facilities to require staff to work overtime only in an emergency as a last resort after exhausting reasonable efforts to obtain staff in other ways. An emergency is defined as "an unpredictable or unavoidable occurrence at unscheduled intervals relating to health care delivery that requires immediate action."

The Health Professionals and Allied Employees health care workers union has taken credit for passage of the bill, along with other unions and organizations who reportedly worked for two years for its passage. The ban on mandatory overtime will apply to New Jersey nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health agencies, and state and county psychiatric hospitals on June 1, 2003. The measure does not apply to physicians nor to employees of assisted living facilities licensed by the Department of Health and Senior Services who are provided with room and board as a benefit of their employment and reside in the facility on a full-time basis.

Health care employers that require an hourly employee involved in direct patient care or clinical services to accept work that exceeds a predetermined, regularly scheduled daily shift of no more than 40 hours a week risk violating New Jersey's Wage and Hour Law. An exception to the ban on mandatory overtime is allowed in an emergency, which is defined as "an unpredictable or unavoidable occurrence at unscheduled intervals relating to health care delivery that requires immediate action." An employer who mandates overtime in these limited circumstances must give workers up to an hour to make child care or other dependent care arrangements.

Meanwhile in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, similar measures prohibiting or restricting mandatory overtime have been enacted within the past year. A number of other states have or are considering enacting mandatory overtime bans. A similar measure introduced in both houses of Congress in November, 2001 has not progressed.

Editor's Note: Unions that have targeted health care workers are continuing to pressure state legislatures to enact staffing ratios and no mandatory overtime measures. These issues are being used not only in legislative campaigns but in organizing campaigns and at the negotiating table. Using these issues to solidify support among nurses and other staff, the SEIU and other, traditionally non-health care unions view the health care sector as critical to their overall survival.

Health care employers must be prepared to meet these challenges if they hope to remain free of union involvement when dealing with critical workplace issues such as staffing, overtime, the nursing shortage, increasing wage rates, and tighter reimbursement schedules.

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