An RN said her ex-boyfriend caused her to lose her job and reported false allegations against her to the board of nursing. She said the board determined the allegations to be false and did not act against her after its investigation was complete. She wondered what legal recourse she now has against the ex-boyfriend. It is unfortunate to hear that false allegations against a nurse can have such devastating results. Although it is not known what the allegations against this RN were, there are some guidelines that may help you should you ever be in a similar situation.
Don't Overlook Your Employer's Grievance Policy
As I have emphasized in other blogs, when you are terminated from your employment for any reason, it is important to grieve that termination through your employer's grievance procedure if it allows you to contest a termination. Doing so honestly and providing facts and any evidence you can produce is essential. If you have a good work record, use your personnel record in the proceeding. That record also can be used in legal cases, including board of nursing proceedings.
In this RN's case, the grievance is vital because the allegations were untrue. Not challenging them lends credence to them.
Not grieving false accusations at the employment level (especially when coming from an ex-boyfriend) that may or may not be about your professional practice is perilous. You can be certain that board members will ask why the allegations were not disputed if untrue.
Possible Remedies Against an Accuser's False Allegations
1) State Nurse Practice Act and Rules
A promising legal course of action against someone who reports false accusations to a board of nursing rests within the nurse practice act itself. Look for a provision in your act governing reports to the board. Its contents would state something to the effect that anyone who reports to a board is doing so in good faith and that good faith is presumed. If a report is made under this prerequisite, the person reporting is immune from any civil or criminal liability as a result of the reporting. In good faith, also called bona fide, is legally defined in many ways, including "accurate," "honest," "legitimate," and "without malice towards another."
Since the ex-boyfriend's accusations were found to be untrue by the RN's board of nursing, there is a real possibility his reporting was not made in good faith.
Seeking legal advice from a nurse attorney or attorney to determine if a criminal or civil case could be filed against the ex-boyfriend would be this RN's next step. It is important to note that she would need to overcome the presumption of good faith granted him with proof that a criminal or civil court would consider in making a ruling about the reporting. One fact that might be helpful in the criminal or civil case would be the grievance process and documents that she used when grieving the termination, even if the grievance was not decided in her favor. Nurse practice acts granting this protection and any recourse available for a bad faith reporting may vary from state to state.
2) Filing a Civil Case for Defamation of Character
A second, promising cause of action against the ex-boyfriend or someone who has falsely reported claims against you would be a civil suit for defamation.
Defamation includes two torts: libel (in writing) and slander (spoken). It is not known how the ex-boyfriend shared his false allegations with the RN's employer or the board of nursing. In either case, defamation is based on an invasion of one's "good name and reputation".
In this RN's case, it is assumed that whatever was said or written about her involved her profession as an RN. As such, the law treats the sharing as libel per se and slander per se. The RN would not be required to prove damages as a result of the untrue statements. Rather, damages are presumed and can include compensatory, special, punitive, and exemplary damages. It is not known if any of these possible options will be or have been explored by the RN. One thing is certain -- she, like you, need to seek legal advice and representation as soon as possible when untrue allegations are conveyed to another and those allegations damage your good name and reputation in your profession.
Take these courses to learn more about protecting patients and yourself:
Protect Yourself: Know Your Nurse Practice Act (1 contact hr) Nurses have an obligation to keep abreast of current issues related to the regulation of the practice of nursing not only in their respective states but also across the nation. Nurses have a duty to patients to practice in a safe, competent, and responsible manner. This requires nurse licensees to practice in conformity with their state statutes and regulations. This course outlines information about nurse practice acts and how they affect nursing practice.
Everyday Ethics for Nurses (7.3 contact hrs) This course provides an overview of bioethics as it applies to healthcare and nursing in the U.S. The course explains the elements of ethical decision-making as they apply both to the care of patients and to ethics committees. The course concludes with a look at the ethical challenges involved in physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and genetic testing.
HIPAA and Confidentiality: Practice May Change, But Principles Endure (1 contact hr) In this course, you will learn about parts of HIPAA, especially as they concern nursing and other health professionals and the protection of healthcare information. Because you play a key role in the production of healthcare information, you play a key role in its protection.