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Can Employers be Held Responsible for Understaffing?

Companies often have to cut staff and lay off employees when the economy is bad. Shortage of staff makes it hard on the remaining employees in all businesses, but it can be even worse in critical jobs like hospitals where employees are responsible for the lives and well-being of their patients. However, should that make the employers liable if an employee suffers or injures themselves from being overworked?

The husband of a woman who died in a car accident on March 16 thinks so. His wife had completed a 12-hour shift after apparently already being over fatigued from continuously long hours. The woman, who was a nurse at a Jewish hospital in Ohio, was on her way home from work when she ran off the road, went over an embankment and crashed into a tree.

According to her husband, the hospital is responsible for his wife's death because she was over-stressed and fatigued from being "worked to death." He says that the hospital was short-staffed, often calling his wife into work on her time off and having her pick up more shifts than she should have been working. He filed a wrongful death suit against the hospital's parent company, Mercy Health Group. The man's attorney claims that the woman may have fallen asleep from over-exhaustion, causing her accident.

Staff shortages are nothing new in many companies, but employers often have no choice but to cut staff to fit their budget to a fluctuating economy. This incident is tragic, however, it doesn't appear as if the woman's employee rights were violated. Had the woman been injured and not killed in the accident, she would not have been eligible for workers' compensation since the accident did not occur at the workplace.

Texas attorneys who specialize in employment law actions, such as OSHA citations

, employee grievances and other employee claims could argue that this incident was not in the scope of the woman's employment. In addition, the woman had the right to refuse to work additional hours or take on additional shifts.

Source: Fox6now.com, "Lawsuit says Ohio nurse was "worked to death"" No Author Given, Nov. 12, 2013

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