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Nurses get uninterrupted breaks, under new Washington state law

Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStockphoto

Olympia, WA — A Washington state law slated to go into effect Jan. 1 requires nurses and other health care professionals at larger hospitals to receive uninterrupted meal and rest breaks.

S.B. 1155, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on May 8, drew national attention when Sen. Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla), in her opposition of the bill, said nurses in small health care facilities – those with fewer than 25 acute-care beds, known as critical access hospitals – “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

In May 8 press release, bill sponsor Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) called the legislation “a win for patients and a win for nurses who provide those patients with critical and often life-saving care.”

Walsh sought to amend the bill by limiting all nursing shifts in the state to eight hours, but was unsuccessful. Another amendment to exempt critical access hospitals from the bill also was removed. However, smaller hospitals have until July 1, 2021, to comply.

In addition, the legislation provides overtime protections, stating that no employee of a health care facility is required to work overtime. A health care worker who agrees to work overtime must do so voluntarily and can’t be penalized for refusing overtime.


“Tired nurses can get burned out, which leads to mistakes, low morale and job dissatisfaction,” Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), chairman of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, said in the release. “This bill can definitely help break the cycle and lead to better patient outcomes.”

The meal and rest breaks include certain exceptions, including cases of emergency patient care.

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