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I feel I am a victim of lateral violence. I feel the hostility of the work environment has become intentional to force me to resign. Do I have any legal recourse?

Friday February 1, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

I feel I am a victim of lateral violence. My supervisor did not speak to me for over nine months and seven months ago I was given an unfavorable evaluation. I wrote a rebuttal letter and delivered it to the administrator. It was ignored as well as numerous requests to meet with HR, my supervisor and my administrator to address my concerns. After much stress and becoming physically ill, I reported my concerns to the company that oversees the practice. Since then, I have been turned into the bad employee and feel I am being treated unfairly. I was told by a professional that unless I can prove discrimination by age, sex, religion or race, I do not have any recourse because I work in a right-to-work state. Unfortunately, like many others, I need my job. I have been told I need to be transferred out of my area because the other nurses do not want to work with me. They, including my supervisor, are much younger than me and I am frequently excluded from conversations — even those regarding patients we are all responsible for. I feel the hostility of the work environment has become intentional to force me to resign my position, which I have had longer than any of the other nurses. The other nurses are reporting to HR on how I am doing every day and according to HR, the nurses are reporting that I am not happy. HR wants my input, but does not follow through on my concerns. I am under the care of a physician and a therapist related to the stress of my work environment. Do I have any legal recourse?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Dana,

In order to see exactly what options you have in this right-to-work state, you will need to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you of any action or actions you can take. A right-to-work state generally means that employees are not required to join a union as a condition of getting or keeping a job. It does not mean, however, that other protections are not afforded employees.

It may be that you are confusing a right-to-work state with being an employee at will. The latter means that an employer can fire an employee for a good reason, for a bad reason (except if discriminatory) or no reason at all. Even employees at will have other protections in the workplace.

Your attorney will be able to inform you, for example, if the harassment you are experiencing is actionable or if your state recognizes "constructive discharges." Constructive discharge occurs when the work environment is made so intolerable that the employee resigns. The law sees the resignation as essentially a termination due to the working conditions rather than a resignation.

Be sure to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible so you can make an informed choice about what is best for you.


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.