How do I deal with mandatory overtime?

woman-and-clockOnce again, a coworker called in sick, and once again, you’ve been asked—no, make that required—to stay into the next shift. You’ve already worked 12 hours, you haven’t seen your kids all day and you have guests coming in tomorrow. Staying late was not in your plans.

First, take a deep breath. Responding in haste isn’t going to do you—or anybody else—any good.

Check with your state board of nursing. Fifteen states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia) have restrictions on mandatory overtime, so ask what’s allowed. While covering for a sick coworker doesn’t usually fall under the allowable uses of mandatory overtime, you may be required to stay in case of an emergency or a disaster.

Then speak calmly to your nurse manager or supervisor. Draw attention to the law, if applicable, and express your concerns. Don’t dwell on your kids or house guests; instead, focus on your desire to provide top-quality care. Numerous studies have shown that fatigued nurses are more likely to make mistakes.

If you’re not protected by law, you may need to stay; leaving could constitute patient abandonment. Do your best, then document the circumstances of your overtime. If mandatory overtime is a consistent problem on your unit, you may need to reach out to risk management or nursing administration for additional support.

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7 Responses to How do I deal with mandatory overtime?

  1. I have not personally encountered this on many occasions, our overtime is usually voluntary. Many hospitals have Central Staffing pools that staff floors that have staffing needs- perhaps this could be brought up to nursing administration if it does not exist in certain places. Also, I do know that in a disaster situation, nurses should be aware that mandatory overtime is a distinct possibility, and I think going into nursing you are made aware of that. It would be interesting to look up the actual laws about mandatory overtime and also laws on how many hours you are actually allowed to work at one time. You want to try to be flexible as an employee, but you also do not want to get abused.

  2. Crystal

    We have voluntary overtime in our facility. When the need arises, we have a pool of PRN staff that I usually available for such emergencies. We are encouraged to take care of ourselves by not taking on excessive amounts of overtime.

  3. cindie

    I was going to apply at a hospital with mandatory overtime. Then I didn’t. No way was I going to get stuck at work. And then watch the boss go home and get into the bed.

  4. Lorrie

    I work at a facilty where there is mandatory overtime and it can be difficult. We only have eight hour shifts but working 16 is often exhausting and worrying about making mistakes when tired is a reality. Unfortunately, mandation becomes a vicious cycle. Often a nurse that is mandated to work 16 hours on the scheudle for the next day. When they are too tired, they often call off themselves for the next shift, then another gets mandated the next day. I feel that a per diem pool with a certain number of days per month required to work would be a much better solution. If an organization can give those per diems some sort of incentive to be on the list, they would be able to find nurses out there that only want to work occasionally for the right incentive. It has to be less expensive in the long run than continuing to pay overtime to mandated staff, not to mention safer for both the staff and the patients.

  5. Melissa

    While we do have to stay until we are relieved (for our patients sake) I’ve never been asked to add on another 12 hours. That would be insane! If someone calls in where I work we only have to stay until the on-call nurse shows up. I think this is a very reasonable way to handle it as it really shouldn’t add more than an hour to your day and protects safe nurse:patient ratios.

  6. Pat

    No one should be mandated to work overtime. That is why I work at a hospital with a union. I would not work in a facility that had mandatory overtime because it is simply wrong. Nurses should not accept it.

  7. Becky

    I was recently terminated from my job due to a mandatory overtime situation. My manager placed a note demanding we all sign up for mandatory overtime and i questioned the safety of the patients and the nurses, also asking her if she was going to be helping on the floor since we were so short staffed. 2 weeks later i was called into the office and told that my questions to her were inappropriate and that they had to resort for signing up for mandatory overtime because people werent answering there phones or returning calls when the unit needed help, and was told that they had enough of people not returning calls promptly and were going to start firing staff for not returning calls, i asked if that meant we were to get on call pay on our days off, i was told “no that it was my obligation to the hospital to be at there disposal at anytime” needless to say i WON my unemployment hearing…..