Recently, on August 6, 2012, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law Senate Bill 2400. The Bill, which states that it is “An Act improving the quality of healthcare and reducing costs through increased transparency, efficiency and innovation,” goes into effect on November 4, 2012. The Bill provides new guidelines for hospitals requiring nurses to work overtime. According to the Bill, “a hospital shall not require a nurse to work mandatory overtime except in the case of an emergency situation where the safety of the patient requires its use and when there is no reasonable alternative.” The term “mandatory overtime” is defined as “any hours worked by a nurse in a hospital setting to deliver patient care, beyond the predetermined and regularly scheduled number of hours that the hospital and nurse have agreed that the employee shall work, provided that in no case shall such predetermined and regularly scheduled number of hours exceed 12 hours in any 24 hour period.” The Bill provides further restrictions as it states that a nurse shall not be allowed to work 16 consecutive hours in a 24 hours period. If a nurse works 16 consecutive hours, the nurse must be given at least 8 hours of off-duty time immediately after the worked overtime.

The phrase “emergency situation” is defined in the Bill as one “where the safety of a patient requires its use and when there is no reasonable alternative . . .” Prior to requiring mandatory overtime, however, the hospital must “make a good faith effort to have overtime covered on a voluntary basis.” A health policy commission is going to be established to develop guidelines and procedures to determine what constitutes an emergency situation for the purposes of allowing mandatory overtime. Hospitals are required to report all instances of mandatory overtime and the circumstances requiring the use of mandatory overtime to the Department of Health. Notably, the Bill does not appear to apply to nurses who are subject to collective bargaining agreements. The Bill states that the law “shall not be construed to diminish or waive any rights of the nurse under other laws, regulations or collective bargaining agreements.” Finally, the Bill contains an anti-retaliation provision which prohibits employers from discriminating against, dismissing, discharging or making any other employment decision based on a nurse’s refusal to accept work in excess of the limitations outlined in it.

In enacting this legislation, Massachusetts joins numerous other states that have rules restricting mandatory overtime hours for nurses. According to a 2010 study, the following states have enacted similar legislation: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas. In short, it appears that the states are moving toward strict limits on nurses’ mandatory overtime hours.