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making a mistake and breaking a policy I didn't know about?

by Anonymous
(Virginia)

I had come in for a few hours to cover another teammates shift. I was putting on my patients and checked the dialyzer for residual renalin(a chemical used to clean the dialyzer) and that the correct name was on the dialyzer. My error was that I only checked the last name. I showed the strip to the charge nurse and she allowed me to type her initials and password in the computer system, a common practice that is done daily. After the patient had been on approximately 10 minutes the error was discovered that he was on the wrong dialyzer, same last name, wrong patient. There was also no "similar name" warning sticker on this dialyzer. Both patients ran the same shift, however one was not there that morning. Upon discovery of the error, the patients treatment was ended, he was told what was happening and the treatment was resumed using the correct dialyzer. In the meantime, I told the charge nurse what had happened and the first question I was asked was "what do we do"?, the second question she asked was "how can we cover this up"?. I have worked for this company for 11 years and in all my 11 years I have never lied or tried to "cover" any mistakes I made. If I do something wrong I am the first to admit it. I did not feel comfortable not telling the FA about the situation. In a recent meeting we were told that the next time a patient was put on the wrong dialyzer both parties would be terminated. End of story, no ifs, ands or buts. However after the FA was told of the error, she said she had to speak with our Regional Operations Director, for further action. At 5pm she called me at home to inform me that I was terminated for placing a patient on the wrong dialyzer. I later found out that the other nurse involved was given 3 days off with no pay. Here you see my dilemma. A few months ago, two fellow teammates were involved in the same exact incident, even the signing off aspect and there was no corrective action done. They were not even written up, a verbal warning is all that happened. When patients start at the clinic they are given papers stating that this could indeed happen. How can this situation go from no action to extreme action?


On Monday June 15, 2009, I went to the clinic to sign some papers related to my termination. When I asked to see the policy on immediate termination for the above stated incident, I was told there was not one. I was then shown the IT policy for giving out your password. I was told that this was the reason I was being terminated. I was not aware of this policy. We were all told to change our passwords but were never told we would be terminated if we didn?t. I myself used my FA?s password as well as she used mine in the last month. The day of the incident, everyone that worked that day typed another?s password. How can I be prosecuted to the extreme for something that is demonstrated on a daily basis at our clinic by the person who is responsible for guiding us from wrong and right. As I stated before I have worked for the company for 11 years and have never been reprimanded for anything and it really upsets me that I have been prosecuted to the extreme. I don?t feel the punishment fit?s the crime. I am confused as why I have been terminated, and why what we were told was not followed through. Why was I the only one terminated and when I asked why, the reason was changed. There was also no reason listed on the termination paper,
therefore I refused to sign it. I take full responsibility for the mistake that I made, but it is just that, a mistake.

I have also been told for the last two years that LPN?s would no longer be receiving raises. How can this be true? How can you single out one group of employees that work just as hard as the rest of your staff. I feel that I have been discriminated against, not for my race or gender, but the amount that I am paid and hindrance of my job duties. I can do everything a tech and an RN can do, but the clinic can essentially operate without me. ?I am an overpaid tech ?, which was heard more than once by myself and other staff. I hope you can understand why I feel like I do and my confusion with the entire situation. I tried to get a few letters from current and former employees who are equally confused and unaware of the policy that has caused me to lose my job, but they are scared to because of the fear of retaliation. Unemployment stated they had to have their names to be able to use it. But someone has said that they would have to tell my employer who the letters are from. I am waiting to see if I get unemployment. I had the telephone interview, and my employer had submitted papers from lawyers and the policy. I have never seen the policy so she read it to me and its states passwords were not to be shared unless "it is normal business practice." Well hello! Please help, what should I do???




Answer For: making a mistake and breaking a policy I didn't know about?


Hi Tanya,

I don't know how or why an employer may vary the way they enforce a rule, but I do know that if they don't want to run the risk of not being able to sustain their burden at an unemployment hearing, they would be wise to enforce the rules "UNIFORMLY".

If it's a rule, an employer should always have a "signed acknowledgment" of receipt of the rule. If they add a new one .. they should get another signed acknowledgment.

They can't hand you a rule book 11 years ago .. have you sign that you received it and expect you to remember every rule or policy change that comes along without giving you the rule to add to the handbook

This would be my approach .. and the fact that it was a one time inadvertent error along with the the bit of information about how the charge nurse wanted to cover it up and was not dealt with in the same way.

Of course this could all be dependent on whether you have been disciplined before .. etc.

You are doing what you need to do. Wait for the initial determination. If it denies .. APPEAL and you might consider getting yourself some legal help if you don't feel confident enough to raise all the points you should through testimony and cross examination.

I could go on about the things you should take note of .. the points you would want to raise .. depending on the documents the employer submits. The fact that the IT violation should cut both ways and be applied even handedly. If you need help, get it .. because we're not talking about just a drop in the bucket.

Tanya you have not been discriminated against .. you may have been treated unfairly, but they can do that as an at will employer.

Discrimination is illegal when based on race, national origin, sex, age, religious beliefs, disability .. etc.

Unemployment is what you get when you are found to have lost your job through no fault of your own .. or the legal unfair stuff.

Comments for making a mistake and breaking a policy I didn't know about?

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Another nurse's perspective
by: Katrina RN

As someone who has been an RN for 18 years, I'd like to reply to this particular situation even though the post is now two years old. I have also been fired once or twice in the past. I am hoping some other nurse reads this in time to save her own career.
Employers in the nursing career tend not to enforce things uniformly, especially in the less well run establishments. It stems from the fact that every little mistake you make could potentially injure someone or end their life. That being said, I have learned how to navigate my way around this profession and survive for the most part.
Chris posted a comment to you that you should pay attention to that essentially said "KEEP A JOURNAL". Document everything that happens in your personal records but don't ever let anyone know that you are doing that. Write down every mistake you make even if you don't tell anyone and how and why you made it. Document every patient that seems irritated with you even if you have no clue what you did. Document every boss and co-worker that you just get the feeling doesn't like you. Most off all keep all papers you sign especially if it has to do with any kind of discipline. Keep a copy of all of your schedules and days worked sick days and days late until you leave that particular facility on good terms. This kind of info comes in handy and these days you can keep some of it (such as your journal)digitally, to save space.
Another important lesson for you to learn is that you NEVER ever share passwords with anyone no matter what your co-workers are doing. This is common practice now in healthcare. I don't blame you. It sounds like you worked in a place that taught you bad habits, but in the future don't do that. Your password is how you prove it is you that is doing the documentation. You can share your user name in some cases, but never your password.
I'm sure this case is solved by now but I just had to add that nursing can be a dangerous profession to be in and Chris' advice to document everything is a very good practice especially for nurses. I would also add ( I think someone posted this advice as well) to just start looking for new jobs if you get wind of this sort of thing coming your way. There are a lot of nursing jobs out there and I, for one, have been caught with my pants down because I thought I could work through obvious harrassment and targeting. It's too easy for employers to get away with that in this field because they can claim almost anything to be grounds for immediate termination. Everything is a major mistake. Not to mention that the very personality types who go into this profession are the types to use authority for their own gain.


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Update
by: Anonymous

OK, so I got turned down, errr...'disqualified for benefits'. I faxed a letter that I wanted to appeal the decision and am waiting to hear about when that will happen. In Virginia, do you know if this is again done over the phone? Should I get a lawyer to represent me or go it alone. I need to subpeona people to prove that what happens occurs daily. Please help me, I'm so upset that I didn't get unemployment.



Hi Anonymous,

If you can afford an attorney, get an attorney.

I want you to read a decision. It's next to the hearing "Rules, Selective Enforcement".

If you have doubts about your ability to bring out all the necessary points you'll need to through testimony, subpoenaed witnesses, documents and cross examinations, you should get an attorney.

You might start your search on this page.

Most VA hearings are phone hearings, but it may also be an in person hearing. The list of FAQ's for Virginia's appeal hearing is here. The hearing packet will be arriving shortly with more detailed instructions as to how to get a subpoena.

In my experience VA gives you plenty of notice so you can prepare.

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name removal
by: Anonymous

Hey I just realized my name is on here, can you please take it off?

You are now Anonymous.

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At Will Employment
by: Chris - (webmaster:)

Hmmmm, I mean just that. I have learned .. through experience to protect myself and the best way to do that is to keep my own "personnel file".

I keep a journal which documents events or anything which raises questions .. If I have a conversation, notice behavior, or receive an email which makes me suspicious or uncomfortable .. into the file it goes for possible future needs. New rule? Into the file.

If I were subpoenaed by an ex co-worker for an unemployment hearing .. knowing full well I would be asked questions to which I would feel compelled to give honest unbiased answers to how and employer operates .. I would naturally conceive the possibility that the employer would be pissed off if my testimony damaged their ability to prevail ..

Pissed off equals the very real possibility of retaliation. Happens everyday. If the employer started a campaign to set me up to be fired .. I would use either the little space for my comment on the warning form to document. I would go home and write a detailed account of what happened.

I am an active participant in my "at will employment". I make determinations about the motivations of the "employer". I would make sure that any "warning" they intend to use at an unemployment hearing will also have my view of the disciplinary action's intent .. if I have a "valid" objection.

I don't have the memory of an elephant, but I want to be able to speak truthfully about what happened, so I use a journal to help me remember.

I use the same techniques the employer uses to keep a record of the significant events of the employment.

I say trust those that you love, but if you enter into an "at will" employment situation trust is not part of the equation .. ever.

"At will" employment in my mind is basically the state of being self-employed and the employee handbook is the contract you agree to work under.

I know the handbook as well, if not better than the employer. My financial livelihood is dependent upon it .. and if they can fire me for any legal reason they want to .. I make sure they will have to pay me unemployment if they choose to get rid of me by using methods and techniques which are intended to create a picture of blame.

I always have done any job I have had to the best of my ability. I work hard and believe that if I'm paid .. I owe my best efforts in return. I have no problem complying with rules and policies in exchange for a living wage, but I'm a cynic and I know that when it comes to employment .. personal feelings and bottom lines .. can create some ugliness.

I am my own best advocate. How do you prove you have good cause to quit? How do you prove you were not fired for willful misconduct? No worries if you view the employment as tentative and influenced by many things and PEOPLE.

I document so that when or if the time ever comes, I can successfully exercise my rights .. instead of wondering what they might be.

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Clarify
by: Anonymous

What exactly do you mean in the phrase- "I will qualify this last paragraph by saying I would be able to get benefits, but I'm a documenter from hell:)"?


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The advantage of having legal help.
by: Chris - (webmaster:)

Hi,

First, here's the link to Virginia's precedent manual. It has the guidelines for how unemployment is suppose to be adjudicated in Virginia .. never a bad thing to have handy:)

The adjudicator kept asking if and how you were informed of the policy because it tough to fire someone for "willful misconduct of a policy" if they weren't aware of it. It would naturally lack the willful element.

I think everyone would fare better with legal help .. it is a legal proceeding after all and generally speaking .. a person's last good opportunity to prevail is at the lower level appeal hearing. Legal help is good if you're nervous or aren't quite sure what or how to present the information needed, such as documents or your own direct testimony and let us not forget the testimony you pull from "cross examination of the employer or witnesses. It's a lot of pressure .. not to mention that if you appeal a hearing decision, ignorance of the hearing process will not be considered good cause for anything.

I tell you on my page about lawyers that they don't like to do unemployment hearings .. because the amount they can charge is limited in most states, but apparently the recession is even affecting lawyers because a friend in the biz who represents employers told me he is getting a lot of hearings where the claimant is being represented by an attorney. Don't be shy, try to negotiate a flat fee vs. hourly.

If you are denied benefits .. appeal and know that you can submit documents, subpoena documents (even if you know the employer doesn't have it .. like the policy:) You can also subpoena witnesses, but I would first try to find someone willing. Forcing someone could possibly yield unwanted results.

You can tell anyone that is hesitant, for fear of their job, that if they are fired in retaliation for being a witness .. especially if subpoenaed .. they would have a case for unemployment based on a discharge due to "retaliation".

I will qualify this last paragraph by saying I would be able to get benefits, but I'm a documenter from hell:)

One more thing, many states do not like to hear that the employer does not uniformly enforce their policies .. If it's a rule for one .. it should be a rule for all .. otherwise how can it be a rule if it's selective .. that might sound discriminatory.

PS, I've turned off the question submission for, but comments can still be posted to the question and answers that already exist. I'm going to organize what's here already .. so anyone looking for information doesn't need to look at so many to find a relevant one.

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Reply
by: Anonymous

Thanks for answering, the rule was told verbally to us in a meeting and like I said we were told no ifs, ands or buts, both parties will be fired. It apparently got back to my FA about the other nurse wanting to cover it up and she wanted to know why I didn't tell her this, I didn't think it mattered...no ifs ands or buts. But you see who still has a job. This Is why I used the term discriminated, loosley. I realize it has to be those things that yiou listed. I just feel that they have wanted to weed out the LPN's for budget reasons and jumped at this . We never signed anything and it was never in writing. I even asked to see the policy and was told there was not one. I have worked for this company for 11 years and never been reprimanded for anything. We were told in this meeting to change our passwords so no one knew it to protect ourselves but if we chose not to and we were involved we would be fired. Didn't happen. As far as the telephone interview the Deputy asked me numerous times if and when I was informed of this policy. Do you think is in my favor? And if I should get legal representation where should I start? And what about getting everyone that I worked with to testify that we indeed shared passcodes, would I have to subpeona them and would there jobs be protected. I am so happy that I have found you, you have opened my eyes to a few things I was not aware of. I will let you know how it turns out.


Hi there,

I have just a few things to add, but I probably don't have enough room here .. I'll post a separate comment to your question.

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