The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 26, 2001 Issue
Local News

WCC urges limiting health care facilities right to impose
mandatory overtime

Staff shortages often mean employees must work more

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference testified to the Assembly Committee on Health in support of Assembly Bill 457, which limits the ability of health care facilities to impose mandatory overtime hours.

Current law, with certain exceptions, says employers must pay hourly employees "time and a half" for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a given work week. The law generally does not prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to work more than 40 hours a week.

The employer's ability to "mandate" overtime has come under scrutiny in the health care field, where, because of staff shortages, some health care facilities require employees to work longer hours.

AB-457 would prohibit a health care facility from requiring a health care worker to work more than 40 hours, unless the health care worker consents to the additional hours, or the facility faces an unforeseeable emergency. In addition a health care facility would be prohibited from discharging or discriminating against an employee for refusing to work overtime.

The conference noted that Catholic social teaching says the primary principle regarding work is that work derives its dignity from the inherent human dignity of workers, who are entitled to humane working conditions.

The inherent right to humane working conditions extends to all workers, including those in professions critical to health and public safety, the conference said.

The fact that the role of health care workers is critical does not justify subjecting them to working conditions that could undermine their personal safety and well-being, WCC said. AB-457 protects health care workers while providing protections for patients to ensure that their care is not compromised.

John Huebscher, WCC executive director noted that the church operates a wide range of health care facilities. "As an employer who operates hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state, the church recognizes that, ideally, concerns regarding conditions of employment should be dealt with collaboratively between employers and employees. However, there is often an appropriate role for government to play in the establishment of just working conditions throughout our society."

Huebscher continued, "Government has taken necessary steps, for example, to establish a minimum wage, to require certain family leave benefits, and to set standards for overtime pay. If work is to affirm human dignity then it must respect the need for reasonable and reliable working hours."

WCC encouraged legislators to consider the safety and well-being of health care workers and those they serve, plus that of the worker's family, which may be destabilized by long and unpredictable working hours. WCC also expressed a desire to work cooperatively with legislators and the health care industry to meet the challenges to provide sufficient care for those in need and just working conditions for health care workers.

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