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I have a problem with my facility's policy on sick time. I would like to help make some changes because I fear the policy is a threat to patient safety.

Wednesday June 26, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

One of our benefits is five days of sick time. If we use more than five days, we are subject to a verbal warning, a written warning and, if it continues, we are subject to termination. It does not matter if we are under a physician's care. I work in a hospital and it is not uncommon to have nurses working when they are sick, because of the sick time policy. Therefore, the germs are shared by all — one sick nurse can make the whole unit sick. I feel helpless to address this stupid and ignorant policy. We do not have union representation and I can now see why it is needed. I have a choice to leave the facility if I do not agree with their policies, but that will not help the nurses employed there now or in the future. I want to make changes and this is my local hospital. I love my profession and my focus is on patient safety. I have a problem with work policies interfering with patient care and safety.


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Eileen,

The situation described in your question raises more questions:

• What does your sick benefit policy actually say?

• Is the employer doing what is consistent with that policy?

• Were you aware of the policy when you were hired?

• Is this more of a discretionary approach to sick time or a change in what the policy was when you were hired?

Sick time is not regulated by federal law, so how it is handled varies from state to state. You could determine what your state requires concerning sick time by contacting your state's Department or Bureau of Labor. The home page online may provide an FAQ section for you to review, or it may provide an opportunity to raise questions about your employment, including sick time benefits. In addition, the state statutes that affect employment are also available on these home pages.

You also could contact a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works in the area of employment law and could determine what the law requires and what you could do to change this practice or policy. In addition to creating potential health problems for staff and patients, it may be that the employer is discriminating or retaliating against those who are ill or have a chronic health problem — this may be a violation of other state or federal laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act.


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.