Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(3)12 Sep 95  PDF Version

   Quick Summary: Violation of the employer’s established policy for frequent repositioning of patients can constitute willful misconduct.

   Willful misconduct in the employment context, which justifies termination for good cause, is defined as:

   "The wanton and willful disregard of the employer’s interest, the deliberate violation of rules, the disregard of standards of behavior which an employer can rightfully expect from employees, or negligence which manifests culpability, wrongful intent, evil design, or intentional and substantial disregard for the employer’s interests or the employer’s duties and obligations." PENNSYLVANIA COMMONWEALTH COURT, 1995.

 

   This case was a claim for unemployment benefits. A nurse’s aide claimed she was eligible for such benefits, as she was not terminated from her employment for "just cause" as defined by law. The state Unemployment Compensation Board agreed with the aide and granted her application for unemployment benefits. However, the employer, a nursing home, appealed to the court.

   The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s decision and denied the claim for unemployment, the reason being that the nursing home was justified in terminating this aide for good cause for failing to follow the employer’s established, written practices for mandatory turning of patients by aides on all shifts.

   The aide testified she "always took care of her patients" even if she did not always complete her rounds to turn her patients, due to other job duties. She claimed, but the court would not accept, that her failure to turn her patients was often caused by problems of understaffing at the nursing home.

   The court drew upon prior case precedents. It is established law that failure by a health care worker to perform prescribed treatment or to mark charts correctly, which are vital components of the worker’s obligation to his or her employer and patients, are sufficiently serious offenses to constitute willful misconduct.

   The court acknowledged that the aide may have believed it was acceptable not to reposition her patients. However, the aide’s signature was produced in court upon a document describing her job duties which specifically included the requirement that a nursing assistant report progress with her assignments to the charge nurse. If there is some reason why she felt she could not follow establish policy regarding her duty to turn patients, she was required to communicate that to the charge nurse for appropriate direction, rather than assuming she could, at her own discretion, ignore the written requirement that she turn patients according to her employer’s policies.

   The court noted that when the case ends up in court, the employer must be prepared, as this employer was, to prove the existence of any employer policy that is being questioned, and that it was communicated to the employee involved in the suit, before the acts in question in the suit. It is also necessary to have witnesses to the acts or omissions to which the employee is accused. Gwynedd Square Center vs. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 656 A. 2d 562 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1995).

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