By Mathew Keller RN JD, Regulatory and Policy Nursing Specialist
“If you don’t stay and work extra, who will take the admission that’s coming? There’s no one else.”
If you’ve been told by your nurse manager that you must work “mandatory” overtime, don’t buy it! Under Minnesota state law, nurses cannot be disciplined for refusing overtime if, in the nurse’s judgment, it would be unsafe for the patient.
Study after study show that unplanned overtime assignments have a high potential to be unsafe. Working more than 10 hours in a given day, when unplanned, results in lower quality of care, higher RN burnout, decreased patient satisfaction, and increased errors.
Whether the overtime is planned or unplanned does make a difference: we plan to get extra sleep, bring an extra meal, and mentally prepare when we know overtime is coming; when it’s not, we’re caught between pleasing our supervisor and doing what’s best for the patient.
What happens if your nurse manager tells you that if you do not accept an overtime assignment, you are abandoning your patients? Again, don’t buy it!
Generally speaking, patient abandonment occurs when a nurse leaves a patient without handing off that patient’s care to another nurse. If you refuse mandatory overtime for the purposes of protecting your patients, you will need to hand off the care of your patients to another RN, which can include your nurse manager (i.e. give report). Remember that under the language of the overtime law, healthcare facilities are forbidden from reporting nurses who refuse mandatory overtime to the Board of Nursing.
When employers ask for or “mandate” overtime, it means the hospital is desperately short of staff. Accepting overtime assignments enables and perpetuates this unsafe staffing by allowing hospital administration to get away with not hiring enough nurses. So, the next time you’re asked to take on mandatory overtime, just say no.