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I'm having trouble with a hospital's hiring practices and would like to know if what they are doing is legal.

Wednesday January 30, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

I work per diem in a small specialty hospital and was offered a position in a larger established healthcare system. One of my co-workers told me that she and two other very experienced RNs went to work for this large hospital. They were offered full-time positions with generous sign-on bonuses. On the 89th day of the usual 90-day probationary period, the manager fired all three of them, stating the new physician team did not like them. All three had resigned their positions at the hospital they had been at for years as the facility was having financial difficulty and full-time nurses were taking mandatory cancels. I'm having a hard time with this hospital's tactics and am not going to accept the position; I don't want to work for people like that. Is this legal? What laws are they getting around and why is this going on in these economically difficult times for nurses?

Carrie Anne

Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Carrie Anne,

Your decision not to work for the described hospital sounds like a good one. It appears the hospital is just using nurses for a short period of time, consistent with their probationary period and then terminating them so they do not have to initiate benefits for non-probationary employees (e.g., health insurance, paid vacation).

As you may know, during the probationary period, a newly hired nurse must wait a specified period of time (e.g., 90 days) before being considered an employee with all the rights and benefits that status provides. During the probationary period there are few, if any, challenges a nurse can raise about his or her terms and conditions of employment. Not liking a hired individual or individuals is not legally actionable — unless there is a hidden motive behind that decision, such as gender or race discrimination.

Times are difficult economically for nurses. It is unclear why a facility would behave in this manner, but hopefully word will get around and other nurses will not seek employment there. As you mentioned, your smaller hospital is having difficulties too. However, they elected to deal with their economic difficulties in a much different manner, albeit not without sacrifice by its nursing staff.

Your situation supports the old saying, "The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence." Your side of the fence might have difficulties, but it appears to be more solid and greener than the other.


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.