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Reps. Sweeney and Cutrona testify on bipartisan legislation to prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses

House Bill 163 would protect patients and support nurses
March 18, 2021
Bride Rose Sweeney News

COLUMBUS — State Reps. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) and Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) testified Wednesday on House Bill (HB) 163, legislation that prohibits mandatory overtime work for nurses as a condition of employment. The bipartisan bill passed the previous General Assembly by a vote of 80-13.

“Nurses already put in long hours under increasingly difficult conditions. Being forced to work unscheduled overtime is wrong and can be harmful to both staff and patients alike,” said Rep. Sweeney. 

“House Bill 163 would allow a nurse to say, without fear of losing their job, that they cannot safely work additional hours over and above the hours they just completed. This respects the dignity of their work and protects patients, particularly when medical error is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. It does not eliminate the use of overtime or a hospital’s ability to flex staff,” Sweeney added.

Under the legislation, nurses can still voluntarily work overtime and hospitals can still offer overtime. 

“The ONA fully supports House Bill 163 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 129. Nurses are professionals who are ethically-bound to assess their ability to care for their patients. If a nurse is too fatigued to provide the safe care his/her patient deserves, the nurse should have the right to refuse overtime without fear of discipline,” said Deborah Arms, president of the Ohio Nurses Association. 

“Prioritizing safe nurse staffing benefits everyone: nurses, patients and healthcare facilities. Research points to dissatisfied patients, increased errors and higher patient readmissions when nurses are not safely staffed. Furthermore, nurse burnout increases with regular extended shifts, leading to costly nurse-turnover for healthcare facilities,” continued Arms.  “The needs and safety of the patient and nurse need to be put first instead of trying to cut initial costs by using mandatory overtime to plug nurse staffing holes.”

Specifically, the bill prohibits a hospital from requiring a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse to work in excess of agreed upon, predetermined, scheduled full-time or part-time workweek as a condition of continued employment. Furthermore, hospitals cannot terminate employment, propose termination, take disciplinary or retaliatory action, or propose disciplinary or retaliatory action if a nurse decides not to work unscheduled overtime.

“The bill is meant to address the issue of nurses feeling compelled to work unscheduled overtime, which can result in negative health consequences for patients and nurses,” said Rep. Cutrona. 

“According to a February 2020 report done by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio and The Ohio State University College of Nursing, excess work and overtime can result in negative outcomes for patients and nurses. In addition, non-overtime nurse staffing has shown to result in improved patient health outcomes,” Cutrona added. 

HB 163 awaits further hearings in the Commerce and Labor Committee.