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Proposed legislation that would prohibit or limit mandatory overtime for nurses could open a new avenue to bring lawsuits against hospitals, warn labor and employment lawyers. Currently, 12 states are considering bills that would prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses. Another 11 states have passed similar laws in recent years, and a similar federal bill was introduced this month in Washington. Meanwhile, attorneys representing health care providers expect laws regulating nurses’ overtime to lead to more wrongful discharge suits against hospitals. “The person will now be able to claim that the employer was motivated to retaliate against the worker for refusing to work overtime,” said labor and employment attorney Jeffrey Pazek of Philadelphia’s Cozen O’Connor, who represents health care organizations and is opposed to legislation regulating overtime. Pazek argues that overtime legislation unfairly places the burden on hospitals to make sure nurses are rested � or face a fine � while doing nothing that “would make it illegal for a nurse to party all night and come to work too tired to care for patients.” 11 states pass laws Since 2001, 11 states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas, have passed laws and regulations prohibiting mandatory overtime for nurses and banning hospitals from retaliating against employees who refuse to work overtime. The laws vary from state to state. For example, New Jersey’s overtime law does not apply only to nurses, but also to pharmacists, nurses’ aides, therapists and technicians. Illinois law says if a nurse works a 12-hour shift, then there must be an eight-hour rest period before the nurse can work again. Pennsylvania has proposed a similar rule for nurses who work more than 12 hours a day, requiring that they be entitled to a 10-hour break before going back on duty. Nurses’ advocates, meanwhile, are on a national crusade to ban mandatory overtime in every state. They argue nurses, for too long, have been forced to work overtime � with no legal recourse � and patient safety is being jeopardized. Deirdre Fitzpatrick, assistant general counsel for the Service Employees International Union, said overtime legislation is needed to improve patient safety and to help alleviate a nursing shortage crisis. She said more than 500,000 nurses have quit their jobs in recent years due to working conditions, including mandatory overtime. During the past decade, she said, understaffed hospitals have often ordered nurses to work back-to-back eight-hour shifts, or four extra hours on top of a 12-hour shift.

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