Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (4)9 Jun 96   PDF Version

   The law prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for filing a worker’s compensation claim.  On the other hand an employer can discharge an employee if the employer has a legitimate reason for discharging the employee, apart from the fact the employee has filed for worker’s compensation.

   The nurse admitted she took a bereavement day to go to her aunt’s funeral, without prior authorization as required by the hospital. She just failed to show up for her nursing shift on the day in question.

   She also admitted she had stayed off work from her back injury longer than the time her physician allowed.

   Either of these was a valid reason for the hospital to discharge this nurse.  UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, MARYLAND, 1995.

   According to the personnel policy manual at the hospital, employees were entitled to bereavement leave for a death in the family. However, the manual also stated that the manual was intended by the hospital only to inform employees of hospital policies, and was not to be taken as a definitive statement of employees’ rights.

   The U.S. District Court in Maryland ruled, under the circumstances, that it was not a nurse’s absolute right to take bereavement leave to travel to her aunt’s funeral in another city. Instead, she had the right to ask her supervisors for time off. They were to make an effort to accommodate her request, but had no absolute obligation to do so. When the nurse failed to report for work as scheduled, despite the fact her scheduled shift assignment conflicted with attending the funeral, she was guilty of an unauthorized absence, valid grounds for dismissal, according to the court.

   Although the nurse was given time off by her treating physician, to recover from an on-the-job back injury, she stayed out longer than the time he allotted. Overuse of what began as a legitimate medical leave, the court ruled, also amounted to an unauthorized absence which would justify her termination.

   After being fired, the nurse sued her former employer for retaliatory discharge because she filed a worker’s compensation claim. Although there are in general terms clear grounds for a lawsuit if an employer discriminates in any way against an employee solely because the employee has filed or threatened to file a worker’s comp claim, if there are other valid grounds for taking disciplinary action against the employee, the employer can take disciplinary action without being subject to a lawsuit, according to the court. Ayers vs. ARA Health Services, Inc., 918 F. Supp. 143 (D. Md., 1995).