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Is there a law that can prevent new DONs from firing staff and bringing in their own people when they join a new facility?

Friday February 14, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

At the nursing home where I work, there has been high turnover with our Director of Nursing for the past three years. Every new DON tried to get rid of staff by replacing them with their own people. Is this legal? The newest DON removed four RNs from supervisory positions, put them in charge nurse positions and hired new supervisors. It has come to our attention that these new supervisors are her lifelong friends. Is this legal? After she put all this into place, she nitpicked at the other nurses, looking for any reason to fire them. Is there a law that can prevent management from doing this?

Esther



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Esther,

Many times when a new DON or other administrative personnel is hired, they will shake up the status quo by terminating staff, upgrading positions, and hiring friends for open positions. Although this is not something that helps with the morale of those staff members who stay on to work in the facility, it is not something that is illegal per se.

Remember that most employees are at-will employees, which means that there does not need to be a reason for a job termination. Nor, unfortunately, is longevity at an institution a solid, legal basis for keeping an employee in his or her position.

This kind of shake-up is not legal, however, if certain things exist in the changing of positions and people, it could be problematic.

First, if the terminations are discriminatory in some way, such as all disabled, all older workers or all staff of a particular race are not kept on, there could be violations of state and/or federal laws that protect these individuals from adverse employment decisions based on their protected status.

Second, if the individuals hired are not qualified and there do not fit requirements for the position, such as a master's degree or certain length of experience as mandated in licensing laws, policies the facility has adopted for qualifications for a particular position and accreditation directives, then the hirings and changes could be challenged.

You might want to seek out specific advice about your facility and your state laws with a nurse attorney or other attorney who can provide you with any direction you can take to fight the changes that have occurred with this new DON. This would be especially important for you if you are being the focus of constant nitpicking by the DON, which may easily translate into harassment. Your attorney can discuss options for you if harassment is something being dealt with in this scenario.

Regards,
Nancy




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.