Nurse Receives No Support From Leadership About Patient’s Complaint

By | 2021-11-30T12:47:38-05:00 November 9th, 2021|6 Comments

An RN was accused of being “mean” to a patient in the PACU. The patient had no complaints during her visit in the PACU but went to human resources to voice her complaints.

The RN is recorded stating that she received no details about the patient’s complaint when asked for them even though HR sought to “write her up” with the potential for termination. The RN’s relationship with her director was not in good standing, and her supervisor was “afraid” to support her. She wondered what her rights were under these circumstances.

False allegations against nurses, regardless of the setting, are not new. I have written about this issue several times over the years. Handling these types of allegations are somewhat easier when you are supported by your nursing administrators and HR. However, when such support is missing, as was the case with this RN, rectifying the false claims is more difficult.

Patient’s Complaint is not the Only Issue

Because there seems to be a rift between the RN and her director and her supervisor is afraid to support her, the first thing this RN should do is contact a nurse attorney or her personal attorney for advice on how to proceed.

This consultation does not need to be shared with nursing administration, nor would you need to share this if you were in her shoes.

You always have the right to seek legal advice when a workplace issue arises. This is particularly so when administration is not supportive and there is no other support mechanism, such as a union.

The attorney consulted would need to review employment documents such as the employee handbook, disciplinary policy and procedure, the grievance policy and procedure, and performance evaluations.

The RN stated that she no bad evaluations, so this may be an indication that her concerns about her relationships with the director, supervisor, or HR are affecting their fair and unbiased assessment of the complaints lodged against the RN.

If either of their assessments is based on a discriminatory motive, such as the RN’s race or religion, the attorney would evaluate a possible case alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Moreover, if the disciplinary policy and procedure has not been followed by the director, HR, and the supervisor, the attorney can intervene to ensure that the policy is adhered to. Although the RN has not yet been disciplined, it may be that a proper investigation into the complaints has not occurred as the policy and procedure requires, for example.

Also, the RN has not been given the details of the patient’s complaint. This is inconsistent with basic principles of fairness between an employer and an employee.

Despite the fact that the RN may be an “at-will” employee (meaning she has no employment contract), not sharing details about the complaint may violate the implied contract of fair dealing between the employer and the RN.

If she is terminated under these circumstances, the attorney can file a wrongful termination case.

An Additional Concern

Another potential issue for this RN — and for you in a similar situation if you ever find yourself in a similar situation — is if the alleged incident were reported to the state board of nursing. The board could be contacted about a patient’s complaint by the director and/or the patient, alleging that she had acted unprofessionally when caring for the patient.

Unprofessional conduct is a serious allegation. Although it is not clear that the RN’s conduct would meet the requirements for that allegation, she will still have to defend herself against it in order to avoid any disciplinary action by the board.

The RN will need an attorney to represent her in any proceeding before the board of nursing. It may be that the attorney initially consulted for the employment legal issues is also experienced in representing nurses before the board. If not, the she will need to retain another nurse attorney or personal attorney to handle the proceedings before the board.

The bottom line in this situation is that, just like this RN, you have the right to seek legal guidance in order to avoid an unfair decision that might result in the loss of your job and ultimately your professional reputation.

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.

Document It Right: A Nurse’s Guide to Charting
(5.2 contact hrs)

Although documentation has always been an important part of nursing practice, the increasingly complex healthcare environment, litigious society and the diversity of settings in which patients receive care require that nurses pay more attention to documentation. The computerized patient record has become standard practice, and the days of repetitive task-oriented narrative notes are becoming part of nursing history.


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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, 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 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. 


  1. Avatar
    Antonia Hicks December 5, 2021 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    When will nurses start to back each other up when complaints like this occur? I’ve been a working RN for 60 years and some things never change. I have seen nurses just turn their backs away when another nurse is accused of some oversight made by doctors numerous times. The NURSE didn’t tell me!” was not unusual to hear after he/she failed to notice a minor birth defect or something similar. Or nurses refusing to help another nurse because they didn’t like her (whine). I thought with the rise in Women’s Rights, yes, there are still more female nurses than male, that all that would improve. I guessed wrongly.

  2. Avatar
    Cheryl E Fluet RN BSN, LNC December 5, 2021 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Because I was lied about by one of my charge nurses, and the nurse managers took her word, I first would callbor speak to the patient. You might find out managerial people are lying. Especially if they are not telling you what the complaint was.

    If you have a union call them. They could be your line of defense. If a lawyer is needed, usually they have lawyers who can help. They get your dues every month. If you have doctors in the unit and you have a good rapport with them tell them your dilemma.

    You cannot face this by yourself. It is like a snowball that begins small and keeps rolling until it explodes on the bottom up against a rock!

    Wishing you well from an RN who has been there

  3. Avatar
    SJ December 5, 2021 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    This is very common and it’s very frustrating. Nurses get abused by both patients and their families and don’t get support from anyone. And no matter what, the nurse is blamed. No wonder nurses are leaving the profession everyday

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    Nancy szul December 5, 2021 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you for that information. We’re still old school and do paper notes. There’s so much duplicity! I initial the drsng change, I measure and describe weekly on the space provided for that on the back of the treatment sheet yet the State wants written notes? Why? Besides because she said do, why? I wish our company held nursing in higher esteem. We have a closet, that’s where the need cart, shelf and collapsible chair go. I know what your thinking, the clients stole my heart in day two so I’m stuck there forever

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    Nicole de Lorrell December 5, 2021 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Hospitals are paid by the press ganey results. Nurses are forced to work short staffed and run around putting out fires. The pt feels like the nurse was mean and not liking them when in actuality the nurse was doing the work of 2-3 nurses feeling very frustrated that they can’t give correct care. Then they get in trouble for not being perfect, giving bad care when in actuality they were going above and beyond, but the government and hospital administrations are letting the nurses down

  6. Avatar
    Tanya S McIntosh December 7, 2021 at 9:36 am - Reply

    This is the typical response from a facility. If they put all blame onto the nurse they are completely clear. The facility will fire the nurse and the hospital reports how responsive they are to the patient. Hire a new nurse.

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