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I was terminated based on an incident, which I thought we had resolved and it is impeding my job search. Do I have any legal recourse?

Friday September 14, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I worked at an at-will home infusion company for 16 years without incident and had excellent yearly reviews. However, recently, I did have an incident. The patientís family hung an unlabeled practice saline bag, left in the house by another nurse. This was addressed with disciplinary action and a signed action plan by my immediate supervisor, human resources and myself. I returned to work 2 1/2 weeks later and was on my way to see a patient when I received a phone call from the branch manager. She asked me to call her after I saw the patient and since she doesn't usually call just to chat, I asked her what was going on. She again asked me to call her after I saw the patient to which I refused and asked again what was going on. She told me I was being terminated due to performance issues based on the original incident. Evidently, corporate got involved and talked to everyone except me. I was led to believe that after the action plan was signed, we had moved on. This is impeding my finding another position, since no one seems to be able to get past "terminated" and many ask you to sign a full disclosure form. Do I have any legal recourse?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Kayla,

You need to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can help you sort out what legal options, if any, you have in this situation. Important for the attorney to evaluate will be, among other things, the employee handbook and the policies and procedures regarding discipline and termination. Analyze whether there is some other reason for the decision to terminate you. Although arguably no incident is "not serious," with the information you included in your questions, it is a little unclear why termination was the final outcome in this case. With more detail, the attorney may come to the conclusion that it was within the right of the manager to terminate you.

Perhaps one of the issues involved is that this situation involved the hanging of an unmarked practice bag. How did that happen and why was it left there? Was the nurse who left the bag there disciplined as well? Were you the supervisor of the nurse who left the bag? Was the patient harmed? What does the infusion company's policy dictate about practice bags and leaving them in the home?

If the home infusion company saw this as serious, which it sounds like it did (without more detail about other possible reasons for the termination), it may decide to report you to the state board of nursing. You will want to discuss this possibility with the attorney as well.

If you have any of your previous yearly evaluations, you should bring them with you when you meet with the attorney.


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.