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Does my wife have any recourse after being let go for inappropriate language?

Wednesday February 1, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

My wife is an RN, as am I. She was working in an ED. At times she uses inappropriate language in stressful situations and has been written up for it.

While working a weekend shift, after being written up, she had taken one of her patients to have an X-ray. Upon her return, she saw that one of her other patients had been moved from their room into the hall without informing her. She proceeded to the nurse’s station, and asked the charge nurse where her patient was, and suggested that it would be customary to inform her of the change. Her manager heard this and told her that was an unprofessional remark and that was the final straw and she would be let go. My wife has been an RN over 30 years. Not only was she let go, they also dismissed four other senior RNs.

Was this a fair decision and does my wife have any recourse? Is it customary for hospitals to fire senior RNs to maintain budget?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Brad,

It sounds as though several issues are going on in your wife's workplace. First, it is probably fair to say that your wife needs to control her anger. Dealing with frustration at work, which is a common experience, has to be handled in a manner that does not threaten the employee with job termination and a manner that does not make others feel threatened. Your wife’s remark to the charge nurse may have resulted in that nurse feeling she was in some kind of danger. Also, many workplaces have a zero tolerance for any kind of threatening or violent words or actions, so the manager may have been following policy.

It is unknown if your wife's frustration was due to that particular workplace (e.g., too many patients, not enough staff) or is of a more general nature. Until that is identified, she may continue to have problems like this at work. Seeking counseling that includes anger management might be a good idea.

It is also unknown why other senior RNs were let go. Budget issues affect all employees, including senior RNs, but it is not known if their terminations were consistent with budgetary issues or some other factor.

If you and your wife believe her termination was not a "fair" one, you can always consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works with employees and get a specific opinion about her dismissal. Take the employee handbook with you, any evaluations done on your wife, her disciplinary forms and any other pertinent documents.


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.