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Treatment of nurse borders on intimidation, harassment

A nurse wrote about her situation in a physician-owned hospital where she worked in the OR for three years. One day, she was verbally berated by one of the surgeons in front of everyone in the OR and was forced to transfer to the PACU. The nurse was told to either accept the transfer or be terminated.

Since she wanted to continue to work at the facility, the nurse accepted the transfer. After working in the PACU for a month, her yearly annual evaluation and raise was due. However, she was told that since she just transferred into the PACU, she would have to wait until a year after her transfer to receive her evaluation and raise. “What recourse do I have?” she asked.

This nurse’s experience is probably not unique. Indeed, Alexandra Robbins, in her book, “The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital,” underscores this fact. Even so, it is not acceptable, especially under certain circumstances.

The initial concern in this scenario is the fact that the nurse was berated by one of the surgeons for all to hear. No details were included in her letter about the surgeon’s harangue, but it is clear that such behavior is unacceptable.

Criticism should not be discussed in a public forum. Rather, it should take place in private and in an appropriate way. If disciplinary action is warranted, that discipline should follow the facility’s adopted policy governing employee conduct, with strict adherence to what discipline, if any, is to be imposed.

A second concern that the nurse raises is the transfer itself. It sounded as though it was a take-it-or-leave-it option. Obviously, framed in this manner, most people would choose to take it. However, this form of intimidation can border on harassment — if not cross the line to harassment.

Not being given the required evaluation and raise that is part of the facility’s policy also is disturbing. Although it is understood that such an evaluation in the PACU could not fairly and accurately occur due to the nurse’s short time there, an evaluation of her work, strengths and weaknesses in the OR could take place.
Whether a raise is granted, in view of her transfer, is another problem. But if a raise was given, it should be based on her almost one-year’s work in the OR.
It would be best for the nurse, and if you are in a similar position, to seek legal counsel when this type of forced change occurs in your position at work.

Intimidation, harassment, and required pay and pay increases are all governed by federal and state laws, as well as by a facility’s own adopted policies and procedures.

The bottom line is not if the nurse should, as she wrote, “Keep my mouth shut or leave.” Leave she might, but on her own terms and after getting legal guidance as to what is best for her given the context of this situation.

You can read more of your nurse colleagues’ similar experiences in the article “Doctors Throwing Fits” by Alexandra Robbins.

NOTE: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice.

For more information on bullying, read Brent’s article, “Help end bullying in your workplace.”

By | 2020-04-06T11:37:40-04:00 July 20th, 2016|Categories: Nursing careers and jobs|0 Comments

About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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