Lost job over HIPAA violation, what is employment potential?


Hi a relative of mine was an RN. She just lost her job over a HIPAA violation. She took a cellphone picture of a patient and sent it to a friend. She later had a falling out with the friend and he threatened to forward the picture to the hospital. She went to her supervisors and told them about this threat, police were called to deal with the friend. She was given the option to quit or be fired and quit.

Clearly this was a serious mistake on her part but I'm not looking for lectures, I'm trying to determine what options are available to her now. Number 1 is whether it's possible to fight her termination. One important fact is that there is no actual evidence of the HIPAA violation; the friend threatened to send the picture but never did, for all we know he doesn't even have the picture anymore and was just bluffing. She has long since deleted it. So the hospital undertook this action simply on her admission of a violation. The question is is this acceptable or do they need evidence?

She is going to put in applications at other hospitals nearby but I'm wondering what it will be like looking for work with this in her history. In her favor she can say she quit, and perhaps give some reasons other than the HIPAA violation why she did so. But I'm certain if any potential employers call the hospital they will give the real reason why she left.

So what is the overall job market like for RNs right now? and, does anyone know anything about getting another nursing job after a HIPAA violation? is it impossible or will some still consider her if she's honest. Finally can anyone suggest other options for her? What would be good jobs for someone with her education and experience to pursue if she has difficulty finding work as a nurse again?

Thanks everyone for your help, I don't want to say that this is a desperate situation but it's pretty bad, she was the sole breadwinner for her family and things are going to become very difficult very soon if she is not able to secure another job.

roser13, ASN, RN

6,504 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Ortho, ASC. Has 17 years experience.

The overall job market for an RN right now is poor.

HIPAA is front and center in terms of violations that facilities will do anything to avoid.

You do the math......

FlyingScot, RN

2,016 Posts

Specializes in Peds/Neo CCT,Flight, ER, Hem/Onc. Has 28 years experience.

She quit....she wasn't fired. She can tell them anything she wants as to why she decided to voluntarily leave her job. There isn't anything she can do to "fight" this because she chose to leave. Overall the job market is pretty bad for nurses but she has experience so that is in her favor, However, she needs to do some really deep soul searching to determine why she would commit such an egregious act of privacy violation when she knew it wasn't morally, ethically or legally the right thing to do. If she can't see how very wrong she was maybe nursing isn't the place she should be. That being said, there isn't any reason she should disclose this to potential employers and whether her previous employer will is a crap shoot. Either way she needs to try to get some good references from her co-workers and supervisors if possible. She needs to pick her friends better too but I'm sure she has figured this out by now.

Specializes in Geriatrics.

Can the last employer actually say the reason why they wouldn't hire her? I thought that was illegal. I thought previous employers were only allowed to state "I would rehire this person" or "I wouldn't rehire this person".


35 Posts

Specializes in Educator/ICU/OB. Has 22 years experience.

From my experience, when a new potential employer calls Human Resources for a reference check, they will not be able to ask details. They can inquire whether or not she was employed there, for how long, and whether or not she would be considered for rehire. This facility may say that she would not be considered for rehire, but that doesn't explain the reason. They do not have to disclose the reason to anyone. Hope this helps. The best chance for finding a new job is to have excellent personal references that would give a realistic picture of what kind of job she does around her coworkers.:twocents:

Thanks for the responses. I am surprised that human resources isn't allowed to disclose something like a HIPAA violation. This would seem to be exactly the sort of thing a potential employer would be looking for. If that is indeed the case though that is good news. I agree that good references will be important.


38,333 Posts

As long as it is true, the former employer can state it, when responding to questions about former employees. If the employer says it, it is considered to be true. The individual quit, further reinforcing what the employer may say.

Simply Complicated

1,100 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Neuro, ICU, travel RN, Psych. Has 5 years experience.
Thanks for the responses. I am surprised that human resources isn't allowed to disclose something like a HIPAA violation. This would seem to be exactly the sort of thing a potential employer would be looking for. If that is indeed the case though that is good news. I agree that good references will be important.

It's actually illegal in any job to give out information like that. Do they do it... yes. But they aren't supposed to. Something like that would "normally" be reported to the board of nursing, so potential employers would be able to find out. She got lucky, by them giving her an out.

As far as a new job, it just depends on the place. How deep they decide to dig, if the hospital will say she is on non-rehire status, etc. She really won't know until she tries.


686 Posts

I think she could run into some issues securing new employment especially in this economy. Jobs are scarce in many areas already and with many applicants to choose from I don't see many going this route. A HIPAA violation and such a gross invasion of a patient's privacy isn't someone many employers will want to take a chance on.

Suggest she go take an ethics class at the local community college on her own dime. That could show a willingness to learn and an appreciation for how unethical what she did was. I would then tell her to apologize profusely, state how ashamed she is, how terrible it was, etc. and pray for the best. We all make mistakes and admitting to it and learning from them is key. Her employer can share this info. It's not slander as it is true but whether they share it or not who knows. They might just say no re-hire.

Best it come from her and not have anything hanging over her head as the person with the info could just threaten to out her or could share it directly with her next employer. Let her start fresh.

klone, MSN, RN

14,575 Posts

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 17 years experience.
Hi a relative of mine was an RN. She just lost her job over a HIPAA violation. She took a cellphone picture of a patient and sent it to a friend.

Everyone else already answered your question well and gave you the guidance you were looking for. So my only contribution to this thread is....why? Why would she do that? Was the patient unconscious, looking silly, famous, or a hottie that your friend thought her friend would be interested in?


8 Posts

i am not sure what the laws are like in your area, but where i am at there are very few things that an employer can say when a potential employer calls to check references. for our org it is limited to dates of employment and that's about it. if that is the case in your area she may be able to omit that information, but if the new employer ever finds out that can lead to dismissal as well. if she has questions she should call the hr department of the hospital to find out what information they give out.

dondk, BSN, RN

124 Posts

Specializes in ICU, Step-down, CCU. Has 13 years experience.

As many have posted, resigning does provide some coverage, but it is not complete. By the letter of the law, a prospective employer may only inquire into the past history of a potential employee. Where they worked, the period they worked, are they are eligible for rehire and their attendance history.

You ask the question of evidence, the problem is whether real or not this is how it affects the situation. The notion of perception with the resignation is damning. By virtue of resignation, she admitted without any evidence she was guilty to her previous employer. I am guessing they offered that option to avoid the fines if they would have charged her with a HIPPA violation.

Now depending on the HR departments, either one may offer/suggest additional information. It is by the letter of the law? nope, can she prove it? nope. I've personally seen HR "offer" background on the employee and I have been asked questions by HR they should not ask about a prospective employee.

Finally, I would not volunteer the "why" she resigned. There is no benefit to it, all it does is demonstrates that the person has issues in judgment and willfulness to violate protocol. Two traits, no employer would be interested in. She did not admit anything, she was not charged with anything, her actions (resignation) spoke for her. As other stated, solid references and a strong work history will be beneficial. Regardless, until she is reemployed, she does not know the reaches of her actions. The quicker she is reemployed and the length of time at a new employer can only help her.

This topic is now closed to further replies.