Legal Background

Ms N consulted with an attorney and explained the situation. The attorney was able to obtain her employment records, which showed she had done nothing more serious than commit a few minor clerical errors.

“I think the reason cited for firing you was a smokescreen created to get rid of you after you reported the improper medication storage,” said the attorney.

The attorney filed a lawsuit against the nursing facility, alleging wrongful discharge and disability discrimination based on the unwillingness of the facility to continue to offer flex time scheduling to Ms N to accommodate her recurrent migraine condition.

The case went to trial during which the nursing facility tried to claim that Ms N’s work was subpar, even though her reviews prior to reporting the medication mismanagement had been excellent. Ms N’s attorney was able to show a pattern of behavior on the part of the nursing facility that appeared to punish Ms N for reporting a valid issue. The case went to the jury, who found in favor of Ms N and awarded her $46,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

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Protecting Yourself

This situation is known as a whistle-blower case, in which an employee is fired and/or  faces social stigma, legal action, or even criminal charges in retaliation for reporting illegal or improper actions by an employer. Although a number of laws have been established to protect whistle-blowers, protection can only go so far.

Is your job at risk if you were to report something like improper storage of medication? It shouldn’t be — everyone should have the same interest in managing medication safely. However, as Ms N discovered, reporting concerns can sometimes be viewed as a hostile action by an employer. Does this mean you shouldn’t report issues? Of course not. If there are issues, you should keep a log of what you noticed and when, who you reported them to, and what action was taken. Additionally, be sure to keep records of your performance reviews, especially if they reflect a change from prior to reporting an incident compared with after. While you may not be able to protect yourself from being fired if your employer wants to retaliate, you will have a good foundation for a legal case if you document the situation well.

Ms Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, New York.