NEW YORK NURSE: December 2008
by Nancy Webber
The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has written an opinion letter to NYSNA clarifying what constitutes a “staffing emergency” under the new law banning mandatory overtime for nurses.
According to the DOL, it does not mean that a nurse can be forced to work overtime whenever another nurse calls in sick.
Signed by the governor in August, the law takes effect on July 1, 2009. It prohibits employers from mandating registered nurses or licensed practical nurses to work beyond their normally scheduled shifts unless the employer determines there is an emergency. The law defines an emergency as “an unforeseen event that could not be prudently planned for by an employer and does not regularly occur.”
“We requested an opinion from the DOL because there was a potential for employers to misinterpret the term ‘unanticipated staffing emergency,’” said Shaun Flynn, director of the NYSNA Governmental Affairs Department. “We know of one employer who informed nurses that mandatory overtime would be allowed whenever a nurse called in sick. That was not the intent of the law.”
In a letter dated Oct. 28, 2008, DOL Associate Attorney Jeffrey Shapiro agreed with NYSNA’s position. “Events that may be foreseen, regularly occur, and can be prudently planned for do not qualify as emergencies,” he wrote. He listed such events as:
Shapiro added that the DOL is in the process of determining whether it will be necessary to establish guidelines for the interpretation of the new law: “In lieu of such guidelines, opinion letters such as this will provide guidance to interested parties with regard to the scope and interpretation of the statute.”
“We welcome this guidance from the DOL as we move forward toward the implementation of this law next summer,” said Flynn. “Clear direction from the state will ease the transition for both nurses and their employers to a workplace without mandatory overtime.”