Should nurses in Ohio be allowed to refuse to work overtime?

A supporter of House Bill 456 at the Ohio Statehouse (WCMH photo)

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Right now, at some Ohio hospitals and medical centers, nurses are being forced to work overtime. Some claim their jobs have even been threatened with termination if they refuse to work the extra hours.

The Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) says this is ridiculous and should not be happening unless there is a good reason for the overtime request and point out several states already outlaw forced overtime.

Many nurses work 12-hour shifts, and some are being asked on a regular basis to work an additional 4 hours. This would mean a nurse whose shift starts at 7 p.m. would not finish with their extended shift until 11 a.m. the next day.

Lori Chovanak with the ONA says occasionally these extra hours are something they can handle but they quickly begin to add up exponentially affecting the nurse and create a greater risk that mistakes will be made.

Chovanak says this puts patients’ and nurses’ safety in danger.

The House Health Committee heard her testimony and that of Brian Burger, the president of ONA, as they tried to convince the members HB 456 has merit.

Democrats on the committee seemed to respond rather favorably to the testimony, accepting what they were hearing, while Republicans asked pointed questions, trying to get clarification on a number of issues.

They wanted to know why a nurse couldn’t just quit and find a job at another hospital if they didn’t like the working conditions; of the nurses who are represented by a union, they wanted to know if or why the collective bargaining agreement didn’t address the issue; and of the nurses that are not unionized they even asked why that was the case, and if they didn’t realize that they didn’t expect to be asked to work overtime when they took the job.

All this less than 12 hours after Governor Kasich implored lawmakers to use compassion and respect when they evaluated legislation.

The bottom line here seems to stem from staffing issues.

The bill is designed to allow nurses to refuse mandatory overtime if they feel it would put themselves or their patients at risk and is not during a declared emergency, a health care disaster, an operation or surgery, or an unforeseen event that results in an influx of patients.

It would allow them to refuse the overtime if the organization isn’t hiring enough people to adequately staff their operation on a normal basis. For example a nurse that is asked to repeatedly work overtime week after week after week.

Nearly every nurse will tell you they want to make sure their patients get the best care possible.

The ONA argues that nurses who are fatigued after working 3 days of 16-hour shifts in a row cannot provide care to the best of their ability; and question if you would want that nurse caring for you in your time of need where one mistake could be deadly.

Burger says this all comes down to dollars and the financial bottom line. According to Burger of the medical institutions would just hire enough staff (not just nurses) to cover each shift then mandatory overtime would not be necessary.

Burger says we aren’t just talking about 1 nurse missing from a shift because someone called in sick or had an emergency resulting in other nurses in the unit needing to cover for them. He says this issue is popping up because there are 5,6,even 7 nurses short in some units and there just aren’t enough employed by an organization to put out a schedule without holes to begin with.

Chairman of the committee and physician himself Rep. Stephen Huffman says he sees this as an issue between the employee and the employer. But he also recognizes that the Legislature has a duty to make sure Ohioans are safe.

And some wonder had this bill been introduced by a Democrat if it would even be getting the hearings it has received already; it was introduced by Rep. Robert Sprague who is running for State Auditor.

Some Republicans on the committee said they are already looking out for the safety of patients by not allowing nurses to refuse the overtime and ask, if nurses could refuse who would take care of the patients?

While it is a valid question, it misses the point; as does simply saying if they nurse doesn’t like the working conditions they can quit and go to another organization; the root problem simply is not addressed. There is still an inadequate staffing issue.

Patiently listening to the 45 minute barrage of questions posed to the ONA was 16-year-old Emma Jasper.

Emma Jasper reads testimony at the Ohio Statehouse on March 7, 2018 (WCMH photo)

Jasper was the third and final person to testify in support of the bill.

Five years ago Jasper’s mother was a nurse in Cincinnati who, according to the family, was forced to work overtime to cover shifts.

One morning Jasper’s mother fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car accident after one of those overtime shifts.

You can read Jasper’s emotional story here.

Five years later, Jasper still misses her mother who she calls her best friend. Her mother is not there when she needs her to be, and the teenager says she would give anything just to talk to her for five minutes.

Forced overtime has forced Jasper to live her life without her mother, and she believes it cost her mother’s life.

For Jasper no amount of overtime pay can offset that; and she never wants another person to go through what she and her family have had to endure as a result of the practice.

After her testimony most of the remaining committee members sat in silence. Several on the committee missed her testimony, having left early to attend to other matters. They will have an opportunity to read her testimony online.

Some of those that did stay thanked the teen for sharing the real life example of why the bill is needed.

After the committee hearing Huffman admitted that the tragedy experienced by Jasper’s family does happen in the industry; and committed to giving the bill more hearings.

Opponents of the bill will get their chance to testify at the next hearing which will likely be held in two weeks. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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