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Can a school RN be held responsible for any medical incidents that arise while she is away from the building?

Wednesday April 2, 2014
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Question:

Dear Donna,

I was hired as a long-term substitute school nurse. They are requiring me to take an hour lunch during the day. If I leave the building to take lunch, can I be held responsible for any medical issues/incidents that arise while I am away from the building? The administrative assistants in the main office cover for me when I am at lunch.

School Nurse

Dear Donna replies:

Dear School Nurse,

For your question, I consulted Fred DiCostanzo, RN, a human resources specialist. Here's what he had to say: "Since the nurse is required to take a lunch break, I am assuming that she is classified by her employer as an hourly or non-exempt worker. Federal law requires that hourly employees be paid a wage based on the number of hours worked, and that they receive overtime pay if their hours exceed the maximum allowed by law. In the case of hourly workers, if a break period is non-compensated, the employee must be totally relieved of duty; otherwise, the employer is responsible to pay the employee for the extra hours, including any overtime that may be incurred. So, in this regard, if the nurse is properly relieved of duty, she is not responsible for anything that happens while she is away from the unit.

"Now, to make things more complicated. A nurse does have the professional responsibility to assure that her patients are in capable hands before she leaves the unit. It is a serious issue if the nurse believes that patients are not receiving adequate care in her absence. If that is the case, the nurse should immediately address her concerns with the organization's administration."

I would add that your state chapter of the National Association of School Nurses (www.nasn.org) is an excellent resource for you in such matters. You don't have to be a member of NASN to consult with them on this. You can check with the national office as well as your state and local chapter.

Best wishes,
Donna


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://www. Nurse.com/Events.