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Setting the Precedent: Nurses Fired for Being Sick

Nurses Article News   (3,403 Views 24 Replies 839 Words)

Brenda F. Johnson has 27 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing.

5 Followers; 76 Articles; 105,615 Profile Views; 262 Posts

Are Nurses Punished for Being Sick?

Nurses spend their day taking care of patients, helping them get on the road to better health. But what happens to the nurse if she/he gets sick? There have been some very public cases of when a nurse was fired because they were sick. While we know this is ethically and morally wrong, what is the reality?

Setting the Precedent: Nurses Fired for Being Sick

I have not personally been fired for being sick, but I have witnessed other nurses suffering that fate. I felt bad for them and I can’t imagine what they must have gone through. We want things to be fair and just, and to be able to trust the company that we work for to do the right thing. However, employers aren’t always fair.  I’m sure many of you reading this will be able to relate to the story highlighted in this article. 

A nurse from Nolensville, Tennessee, Chrissy Ballard was fired this summer after being off from work to begin treatment for her stage 2 hormone-receptor negative (can’t be treated with hormones because it doesn’t have hormone receptors), and HER2+ breast cancer (tests positive for the protein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 which encourages the growth of cancer cells). Chrissy worked with dying patients in Hospice care for a company called Caris Healthcare. This past March, Chrissy was diagnosed with the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer.  She must now face her own truth of mortality, after helping patients do the very same thing. Caris Healthcare fired her in the middle of her cancer treatment. Her termination letter states that the reason for her firing was due to “health reasons”, but that she was eligible for rehire. Caris Healthcare’s mission statement is to “Hospice with Compassion and Hospice with Grace”. Their actions towards Chrissy does not line up with their mission statement.

Not one person on earth is immune to being diagnosed with cancer, or some other diagnosis that threatens our life and well being.  If the day comes that we need to take time off from work for an illness, we hope to be able to take the needed time off to have surgery and other treatments without retribution from our employer.  

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) that was initiated by President Bill Clinton, allows employees to take 12 unpaid weeks off from work for qualified reasons while their jobs remain secure. The employee must have been at the institution for 12 months in order to qualify and have worked 1250 hours during that time.  Chrissy was fired just before the 12-month deadline. While Chrissy’s case is being fought in the legal arena, Chrissy and her husband say that they regret not putting her request in writing. Lawyers suggest that when you are going to be out for qualified reasons, put it in writing as to why you are asking for time off. 

After reading about Chrissy’s situation, I pulled up the policy for attendance at my facility. The policy stated that an “Absence”, in which the employee must take an unscheduled absence over 4 days be referred to FMLA with a written note from a physician. Under the “organizational rights” in the policy, it tells us that the business has the right to authorize or refuse the request to be off, and are able to investigate absences to determine whether the reason is justifiable.

In the employee handbook at my place of employment, it gives the following reasons an employee can use FMLA for pregnancy-related issues such as complications, birth, and care after birth or adoption, care of a family member with a serious illness, and a serious health condition that inhibits the employee from doing their job. FMLA is also granted for military reasons including allowing the employee to take off 26 weeks for a special leave related to care for a covered service member. FMLA allows the employee to come back to work to an original or equivalent position, same pay and benefits. 

In a perfect world, we would be able to take off the amount of time that we need and be able to keep the same job. However, employers have to protect themselves as well. Some employers engage in shady practices that put their employees in jeopardy. It is our job to know the law and our employers’ policies regarding time away from work. We should never assume anything. When applying for a job, make sure to check into whether they provide short term disability, long term disability, insurance, and that they fit the qualifiers to provide FMLA.

Chrissy’s surgery was successful, and now she is in the middle of her radiation treatments. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating her case for improper firing. Her case can and will set a precedent for nurses in the United States. 

Like I stated earlier, I’m sure there are nurses reading this who have experienced good and bad issues regarding their employer when faced with a life-changing event. Share your experience if you wish, or give advice to those who may be facing this in their lives right now. Below is the link to the article about Chrissy Ballard if you would like to read more about her.

A Hospice Nurse Started Chemo. Then Her Employer Fired Her.

Brenda F. Johnson, BSN, RN Specialty: 25 years of experience in Gastrointestinal Nursing

5 Followers; 76 Articles; 105,615 Profile Views; 262 Posts

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3 Followers; 36,950 Posts; 98,120 Profile Views

Know someone going through a situation like this right now. The employer representative responsible for threat of job loss is gunning for a subordinate employee that they have been heard to admit a personal vendetta against. Had they not been so vocal about their personal dislike, another supervisor in the mix would not have been able to warn the victim subordinate.  Now that person is attempting to save themselves with FMLA while looking for a new job.

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94 Posts; 1,101 Profile Views

I also have a dear friend that this happened to.  It would be great if we can boycott places like that, or lease put them on blast, hurt them in their pockets so that they will know that we are not disposable like yesterdays trash.  

Edited by Queen Tiye

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6 Posts; 561 Profile Views

Happened to me. I was being tested for a very high WBC. Seeing a hematologist and employer was notified. I had to take off early because i had to drive an hr and a half or so to my doctor every month. Also had migraines and nasal surgery. Treated me crappy for all of it. And yeah, they fired me. Kaiser is awesome. Wanted me to be seen by their doctors because they didn't believe me.

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MunoRN has 10 years experience as a RN and specializes in Critical Care.

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FMLA laws being what they are, I can't really fault the employer in this scenario.  

I also can't really fault employers for not being familiar with the various potential expenses of being an independent adult.

Even once you qualify for FMLA, you're still responsible for the full costs of your health insurance, which can easily be in excess of $20k for a family plan.  But prior to being under the umbrella of FMLA you run the risk of potentially high costs due to an acute illness, there are options out there for covering these potential costs, or you can save some money and risk-it, but you can't really complain when that risk you took comes back to bite your bank account.

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851 Posts; 13,330 Profile Views

I work in oncology. While my employer is quite supportive of our own illnesses and sends us home with coughs/fevers/GI bugs to protect our neutropenic patients, I have seen far too many patients with cancer get pushed around and fired from their jobs due to their illness. It’s very sad, but so true. 

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VivaLasViejas has 20 years experience as a ASN, RN and specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

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I was fired from a job essentially for having a chronic mental illness. I'd had to go out on medical LOA for three weeks, then came back with a very brief list of accommodations, signed by my doctor, that I needed to continue in the position. My employer shot down every one systematically; they made it clear that they didn't have to work with me and they weren't going to. End of story. I was let go three days later.

I suppose I could have fought it. I probably should have gotten on board with the EEOC and asked for a lawyer to take my case. But I was so beaten down by the circumstances that I didn't have the emotional energy to do battle. Besides, the employer would have had to give me my job back, and who wants to work for a company like that?

Now I can't work, I'm on disability and had to give up my nursing license this year because I didn't have any practice hours in 5 years. I still resent that company because I loved that job, but once they knew I was ill, it was like they turned on me and did their best to force me out. The corporate nurse told me that "it's not your fault, it's your brain chemistry." If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is.

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Serhilda is a ADN, RN and specializes in Cardiac telemetry.

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I have many complaints about my place of work, but thankfully their response to me being ill or injured has been wonderful. In the first year I've worked there, I've had to use short term disability because my seizures were poorly controlled. They started leaving the left side of my body nearly paralyzed and my hands were numb off and on for days. My manager called me up on her day off to see what was going on, making sure I was okay, and helped me a lot through the process of applying for short term disability.

Next, under a new manager even, I injured my foot mountain climbing after I'd taken a week off to celebrate my fiance and I's anniversary. They allowed a full month of sedentary work with my same pay, including differentials, while working as a night shift unit secretary. We don't even have a night shift unit secretary but they basically created the position just for me. Oh, and a situation involving a false accusation from a coworker was being investigated at this time too. Very surprised they didn't fire me.

Next, unfortunately, being as lucky as I've been, I was off sedentary duty and got the flu with complications. Had to call off for I think it was a week? Again, no complaints just well wishes from everyone.

I'm incredibly thankful and haven't heard of anyone else's employers being this tolerant. Understanding managers and directors are out there though.

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AceOfHearts<3 specializes in Critical care.

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I was injured outside of work before the year mark to qualify for FMLA. I was out for months recovering on short term disability and never had to worry about my job. Others I work with have had to be out for far longer than the 12 weeks mandated by FMLA and haven’t the lost their positions either. There are some good places out there.

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bubblesbanks specializes in Hospice/HHC.

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I am that nurse who has a chronic condition that one day will just get worse. I have to go out of state monthly for doctor's appointments, and have been blessed to find a job where the companies' management works with me on all this.

Since my illness my work views have changed. If I am not valued by a company because of my condition then that company isn't worth my time. No job, or the management is worth the stress of losing/worsening my health. At the end of the day I am the only one who is going to look out for me. 

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bubblesbanks specializes in Hospice/HHC.

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14 hours ago, VivaLasViejas said:

I was fired from a job essentially for having a chronic mental illness. I'd had to go out on medical LOA for three weeks, then came back with a very brief list of accommodations, signed by my doctor, that I needed to continue in the position. My employer shot down every one systematically; they made it clear that they didn't have to work with me and they weren't going to. End of story. I was let go three days later.

I suppose I could have fought it. I probably should have gotten on board with the EEOC and asked for a lawyer to take my case. But I was so beaten down by the circumstances that I didn't have the emotional energy to do battle. Besides, the employer would have had to give me my job back, and who wants to work for a company like that?

Now I can't work, I'm on disability and had to give up my nursing license this year because I didn't have any practice hours in 5 years. I still resent that company because I loved that job, but once they knew I was ill, it was like they turned on me and did their best to force me out. The corporate nurse told me that "it's not your fault, it's your brain chemistry." If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is.

I am sorry to hear this happened to you. Unfortunately, I strongly still believe most of society doesn't accept or realize mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical illness/condition. Light & love to you.

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mmc51264 has 7 years experience as a ADN, BSN, MSN, RN and specializes in orthopedic; Informatics, diabetes.

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this makes  me so sad. I am familiar with FMLA and intermittent FMLA as I have 2 kids with Type 1 diabetes and I never know when I have to take a day off. I had surgery about 5 years ago and had my FMLA in place. Thank goodness everything was ok. I get my health insurance through my husband's employer, which meant my work status does not affect my health insurance status. 

It is sickening that one has to worry about their job while going through a very stressful illness.                                                           

Shame on them 

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