Washington State Nurses Association Files Lawsuits for Adequate Rest Breaks for Registered Nurses, Improving Working Conditions

SEATTLE, Oct. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), representing more than 16,000 registered nurses in Washington State, has filed lawsuits against four hospitals around the state for failing to provide nurses with rest and meal breaks. Research confirms that nurses working long hours have decreased alertness and vigilance which can lead to an increase in medical errors and compromised patient care. WSNA has been working for several years to ensure that nurses receive full, uninterrupted breaks because that dedicated time to rest is critical in preventing fatigue and fatigue-related errors.

WSNA has recently won two landmark decisions for patient safety on the issue of missed breaks for registered nurses. The Spokane County Superior Court recently ruled that Sacred Heart Medical Center had violated the Minimum Wage Act by failing to pay nurses the wages they were owed for missed rest breaks and that the nature of a nurse's work does not allow for anything but full, uninterrupted breaks.  An arbitrator also ruled this summer that the University of Washington Medical Center is required to provide nurses with full 15-minute breaks as agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement. Both decisions conclude that a nurse's rest break must be uninterrupted time away from work duties, not a series of small, intermittent breaks which consist of brief interruptions in work throughout the day.

"As a registered nurse, I constantly manage critical life and death situations. I need time completely away from work to regain my focus and alertness. Getting my breaks during a shift ensures that I can be at my best when I'm caring for my patients. We had two great victories on this issue and now we're taking the fight to four more employers, but the real goal is to cause a fundamental shift in how hospitals in this state prioritize breaks and safety," said WSNA President Julia Weinberg, RN.

These four new lawsuits continue WSNA's effort to ensure nurses receive rest breaks:

  • Good Samaritan Hospital, Puyallup, WA - The lawsuit alleges Good Samaritan does not pay its registered nurses the wages required by the Minimum Wage Act when a missed rest break pushes a nurse into overtime hours. The lawsuit seeks back pay owed to the nurses and also to improve Good Samaritan's record keeping practices for missed rest breaks.
  • Tacoma General Hospital, Tacoma, WA - Similar to Good Samaritan, the lawsuit alleges Tacoma General does not pay its registered nurses the required wages for missed rest breaks and also does not have an adequate record keeping policy for missed rest breaks.  
  • Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, Bellevue, WA - The lawsuit alleges Evergreen Hospital is also not paying its registered nurses the wages required when a missed rest break pushes a nurse into overtime hours.  The lawsuit similarly seeks back pay and a better record keeping policy.
  • Holy Family Hospital, Spokane, WA - The lawsuit alleges that Holy Family fails to keep adequate records of missed rest breaks, and by doing so, fails to comply with a State Supreme Court decision requiring employers to treat missed rest breaks as time worked.  Nurses at Holy Family do not always receive the wages they are owed when they are worked through a rest break, including when the rest break pushes a nurse into overtime hours.

"We are committed to patient safety and ensuring that every nurse in Washington receives their full, uninterrupted rest breaks.  These lawsuits should put every hospital in the state on notice that they cannot work nurses through their breaks without consequences. By imposing a financial penalty for failing to provide uninterrupted breaks, we hope these lawsuits will ensure that hospitals make breaks a priority. We are fighting in the workplace, in the courts, and in the legislature to protect nurse and patient safety," said Christine Himmelsbach, MN, RN, Assistant Executive Director of Labor Relations for WSNA.

Founded in 1908, WSNA is the professional organization representing more than 16,000 registered nurses in Washington State.  WSNA effectively advocates for the improvement of health standards and availability of quality health care for all people; promotes high standards for the nursing profession; and advances the professional and economic development of nurses.