Illinois Bans Mandatory Overtime For Hospital Nurses

On July 28, 2005, Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 201 which amends the Hospital Licensing Act to prohibit mandated overtime for nurses except in "unforeseen emergent circumstances." The amendment is effective immediately, and prohibits discipline, discharge, or any adverse employment action solely on the basis of a nurse's refusal to work mandated overtime absent an unforeseen emergent circumstance.

The definition of "nurse" includes any advanced practice nurse, registered professional nurse, or licensed practical nurse, as defined by applicable state law, who receives an hourly wage and has direct responsibility to oversee or carry out nursing care. It does not include a certified nurse anesthetist, who is primarily engaged in performing the duties of a nurse anesthetist.

"Unforeseen emergent circumstances" is defined as any declared national, state, or municipal disaster or catastrophic event, or any implementation of the a hospital's disaster plan, that will substantially affect or increase the need for health care services, or any circumstance in which patient care needs require specialized nursing skills through the completion of a procedure.

The Act specifically provides that an unforeseen emergent circumstance does not include a situation in which the hospital fails to have enough nursing staff to meet the usual and reasonably predictable nursing needs of its patients. Even during an unforeseen emergent circumstance in which mandated overtime may be required, such overtime is limited to four hours beyond the end of the nurse's pre-determined shift, and a nurse required to work up to 12 consecutive hours must be allowed at least 8 consecutive hours of off-duty time immediately thereafter.

Alleged violations will be investigated by the Dept. of Public Health, and complaints must be filed within 45 days of the alleged violation. Violations must be proven by clear and convincing evidence that the nurse was required to work overtime against his or her will. To defend, the hospital must present clear and convincing evidence that an unforeseen emergent circumstance requiring overtime existed at the time the employee was compelled to work overtime.