End Mandatory Overtime

So you manage an enterprise and your commodity is healthcare service delivery. Your patients are indigent veterans, state prisoners, the forensically mentally ill and disabled. Over many years for various reasons you do not have the personnel to get the job done well. In some instances, you do not have enough persons to cover the basic responsibilities of the job adequately. What is your recourse? Possibly overtime, registries, hiring more well-trained personnel, recruiting and retaining the best workforce available.

Let us say that the options for managing the workforce are available at varying degrees over many years. Sometimes registries are preferable. At other times additional full-time hiring is ideal. Even the usage of overtime, at a premium associated with base compensation plus half per hour, may be worthwhile. In the last instance, using a management practice that extends a worker beyond the regular work schedule should be employed sparingly. It is expensive, can lead to highly disparate wages, and if not voluntary and negotiated can undermine employee morale.

The use of overtime is so scrutinized that one aspect of it, mandatory overtime, was banned in California in 2001. This prohibition only applied to the private sector. As one might imagine, the allowance of the practice in the public sector promoted its continued use. This detrimental administrative tool has now become so pervasive that over four thousand California state employees suffer the wrath of this insidious administrative directive on a regular basis.

Why so? People are paid, right? When a state prisoner, mentally disturbed inmate, or severely disabled service member needs the full attention of a healthcare provider, physical fatigue can be fatal. When a worker who has been repeatedly mandated finally reaches quitting time after a series of long days no one would want to be in passing traffic as they pull off the parking lot. When a parent planned for picking up a child but was required with less than an hour's notice to stay at work for what might amount to another half-shift, it might not come as a surprise that the practice is no longer legal in the private sector.

The added challenge of mandatory overtime is that it undermines employee morale to the point that the overly-mandated workforce becomes highly transient. Case in point, at the homes operated by the California Department of Veteran Affairs, annual workplace attrition can average one-hundred percent. So you can end the year with an entirely new workforce serving those who sacrificed to preserve democracy. This is unsustainable. California can do better by its public employees.

This issue has been studied by a state oversight commission and through joint hearings of the Committees on Public Employee Retirement and Social Security. Previous legislation was vetoed with the directive to negotiate through collective bargaining. One could easily argue that the issue is less about a contract and more about the health and safety of the entire environment. This year a bill, a report, public scrutiny through the press, and collective bargaining are all attacking this bad management practice. Hopefully, the California Legislature and ultimately the Governor and his administration will see the light and do well by those who serve faithfully despite threat of bodily harm in state hospitals, veteran's homes, and correctional intuitions.

Eliminating mandatory overtime in state employment is the honorable thing to do for these dedicated largely female champions of quality healthcare service delivery.

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