By Carolyn Buppert
Carolyn Buppert, JD, NP is a health care attorney. Her legal clients include medical practices, institutions, non-profit organizations and individual clinicians throughout the United States. She is the author of eight books, and her column offers tips and advice on financial issues. Visit her website to learn more about her: www.buppert.com.
Until recently, I rarely received a call or email from a nurse practitioner who had lost a job. In the past year, though, contacts from NPs needing advice because they have been fired have increased dramatically. Some of the fired NPs have been given reasons for termination and others have not.
The NPs ask, “What are my rights? What can I do legally?” The answer, unfortunately, is that generally the fired employee has no rights. And usually there is nothing an attorney can do.
Wrongful TerminationThere are exceptions, however:
If an NP was fired because of being over age 40 and the NP worked for a state government, a federal agency, or a private employer with more than 20 employees, the NP can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
If an NP was fired because of race, religion, color, sex, or national origin and the NP worked for a state, federal, or local government or a private employer with more than 15 employees, the NP could file a claim with the EEOC or seek advice from a private attorney regarding a claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If the NP was fired because she or he is disabled and the NP worked for a state or federal government or a private employer with 15 or more employees, the NP may file a complaint with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If the NP was fired by an employer who sexually harassed her or him, the NP may file a claim with the EEOC under Title VII.
If the NP was fired in retaliation for filing a complaint against the employer, the NP may, through an attorney, seek compensation under one of the Whistleblower Acts.
If the NP was fired for joining a labor union or for attempting to collectively bargain, the NP may file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Termination for the reasons stated above is “wrongful termination,” meaning an employer has fired or laid off an employee for illegal reasons. There may be a legal remedy.
In addition, if an NP has an employment contract, termination of employment must be accomplished according to the terms of that contract. If it is not, the NP can use the legal system to enforce the terms of the contract.
However, if an NP’s factual situation does not fit one of the above scenarios, then little can be done. It’s time to move on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
Question: Doesn’t the employer need to tell the NP why she or he is being fired?
Generally, no. Some states require that the employer give a reason, and in those states the employee must request the reason in writing.
Question: Doesn’t the employer need to give the NP notice?
No, unless the employment contract specifies that notice is required.
Question: Doesn’t the employer need to pay severance?
Question: Can the NP make the employer agree not to give a bad reference?
Question: Is a terminated NP entitled to unemployment benefits?
Possibly. State laws vary. Most states won’t pay unemployment benefits if the employee was fired because of something she or he did (or didn’t do) that led to the termination. Check with the state unemployment office. If in doubt, apply. So, in most situations the fired NP (or any other employee who is let go) has no rights. The best thing to do is to take a few days to mourn, and then face forward rather than look back.
Avoiding TerminationFor all those NPs who still have their jobs, here is some advice to avoid termination during this economic recession:
Give your employer your best work. If you can’t, consider quitting. (If your employer is keeping you from doing your best work, think of this as terminating your employer.) Make efforts to find a job more suited to your talents and temperament. It is best to keep the old job until you find a new job. However,
if you are about to get fired, it may be better to quit.
Develop Plan B. That is, work now on developing relationships and skills that will help you find a new job quickly, if you have to.
Keep your eyes and ears open for information on the financial status of your practice or institution. I suspect many NPs are being fired because the practices where they work are not doing well financially. If you are a moneymaker for the practice, you probably are safe. If not, develop Plan B. Note that even a moneymaker may be fired, if that person is a perpetual pain in the neck for the employer.
Shore up your references, now and continually. Should you be fired, you will need to explain why such an excellent practitioner would be let go. If you can refer a prospective employer to severa l credible references who can vouch for your capabilities, you may be able to get past the stigma of being fired. Once you have a new job, the stigma will wear off, provided your subsequent employers are satisfied with you.
If you have a nemesis at work, try to repair the damage. Often, people are fired because they got on the bad side of one person.