On October 13, 2009, new emergency regulations concerning overtime for nurses were issued by the New York State Department of Labor, and immediately became effective. These emergency regulations require health care employers to create and implement alternative staffing plans (i.e., Nurse Coverage Plans) as a pre-condition to an employer’s ability to require nurses to work overtime for patient care emergencies. 

These new regulations apply to the recently implemented New York Labor Law 167, which went into effect on July 1, 2009. This law prohibits a health care employer from requiring a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse who provides direct patient care to work beyond their “regularly scheduled hours of work.” “Health care employer” includes hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. Each nurse must have a “predetermined” number of hours. The exceptions to this rule include: 1) a health care disaster; 2) declaration of an emergency by the county, state or federal officials; 3) an emergency requiring overtime to provide safe patient care (if the Nurse Coverage Plan in place is not sufficient); or 4) an ongoing medical or surgical procedure. (While the new law does not restrict voluntary overtime, the New York State Board of Nursing nonetheless seeks to preclude nurses from voluntarily working more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period.).

The “emergency” regulations require health care employers to have written Nurse Coverage Plans in effect no later than October 13, 2009. These plans must identify and describe the alternative staffing methods a health care employer will use to ensure adequate staffing other than the use of mandatory overtime. The plans must also be available to nursing staff (by physical posting in the facility), collective bargaining representatives, and state officials (upon request). Importantly, each health care employer is required to document all steps it took under the plan to seek alternatives before it can authorize overtime.

Note: This article was published in the November 2009 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.

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