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Do I have recourse against a supervisor who used my weight as an example of why I should be more empathetic about coworker disabilities?

Friday August 1, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

My nurse manager called me into the office to discuss another employee who had accused me of not being supportive and questioning his clinical abilities. My manager said I should be more empathetic about this employee’s hearing loss. I stated I thought it was unsafe that he refused to wear his hearing aids despite his hearing loss.

My boss proceeded to use me as an example of how this employee must feel, and said, "What if I were to complain that you’re overweight and too big to work around?” I found this remark unprofessional and offensive. Though I could stand to lose weight, I have no documented problems performing my duties. Do I have any recourse for her actions? Should I report it and if so, to whom? How do I know there will be no retaliation?

Wanda



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Wanda,

Your question raises two issues that can be commented upon. Initially, your concerns about your fellow worker being unsafe is important. However, it would be necessary to document his unsafe practice factually to the nurse manager, and others who might need to be involved in this situation, so all concerned can know how to proceed to help your colleague use his hearing aids so that no patient is placed at risk due to his hearing loss.

It would seem that the nurse manager and others at the facility, including the risk manager, would want to ensure no unreasonable risk of harm would occur to this staff member's patients due to his inability to hear. However, this is an issue that must be decided by administration. Your sharing your concern with your nurse manager is a first step. However, to re-emphasize the point, sharing your concerns factually and confidentially about his unsafe practice is vital.

Although your nurse manager's response to your voiced concern was not professional or helpful, it seems she was trying to emphasize the importance of accepting a person's disability or shortcomings, but in good faith working with that person and the system to rectify the problem. Perhaps the fact that you had no specifics to share with her might have been one reason why she was so flippant when you raised your concern.

If your nurse manager does nothing about what you shared with her, you might try speaking with risk management or the DON. Although your colleague is most probably covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be treated with all the protections that federal law affords, he also has a responsibility to protect patients from potential harm despite his disability. Hopefully all involved can work in a positive manner to alleviate the problem and, at the same time, remember that those with disabilities deserve respect like all other individuals do, including co-workers.

Cordially,
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.