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Is it legal for a hospital to require all nurses to clock out for lunch within a two-hour timespan even though some are too busy at that time?

Friday September 27, 2013
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

The hospital where I work recently required all nurses to clock out before noon for lunch. The time from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. can be very crucial for a staff nurse because it's time to pass trays, feed patients, administer medications and check blood sugar levels. It is very frustrating to clock out and leave things undone, and it is very unsafe for patients since every nurse is required to go to lunch around that time. Is it legal for the hospital to require all nurses to clock out even though they are busy around that time?

Sandra



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Sandra,

It is not clear why your employer is asking that all nurses clock out before noon for lunch. What is clear, however, is the fact the policy only can be adhered to if there is no danger or risk of harm to your patients.

Remember that a nurse retains responsibility for making professional nursing judgments about the care of his or her patient. If leaving a patient to clock out for lunch may result in an injury or death to a patient, the nurse should not do so. Rather, the nurse might want to contact the nurse manager or supervisor and share concerns about leaving the patient pursuant to policy. You also should check the policy for any exceptions to this general rule, since one exception might be if the patient's condition does not warrant the nurse's absence from the unit for lunch.

You may seek a consultation from a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you on your responsibilities under this policy and to find out what you might be able to do to refuse to follow the policy when necessary.

Nursing practice is governed by the state nurse practice act and its rules, standards of care and standards of practice, nursing ethics and your professional judgment. Blindly following an employer directive without obtaining information about its ramifications to you and your patients is not
good practice.

Sincerely,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.