Whistleblower Protection for Nurses Who Report Unsafe Hospital Practices

Nursing staff are the front-line defenders of patient safety in hospitals, nursing homes, and any other facility that provides care for patients. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that nurses can report unsafe practices without fear of being fired. The Maryland Court of Appeals has acknowledged this important principle of public policy in a decision reinstating a nurse who filed a wrongful termination case.

In Lark v. Montgomery Hospice, Inc., a nurse was fired after making complaints about the illegal handling and distribution of narcotics at the hospice where she worked. Among other things, the nurse complained to management that narcotics were being provided to patients without a doctor’s order and that adult doses were being given to pediatric patients. The hospice failed to take corrective action and fired the nurse shortly after she made the complaints.

The nurse filed suit, arguing that Maryland’s health care whistleblower statute protected her from termination. The whistleblower law states that a health care worker may not be fired for making a complaint if all of the following are true:

  • the employee has a reasonable, good faith belief that the employer has engaged in illegal activity
  • the employer’s illegal activities pose a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of the public, and
  • before reporting the illegal activity to the board, the employee either complained to the employer in writing and gave the employer an opportunity to correct the activity, or the employee followed the reporting procedures under the employer’s corporate compliance plan.

Based on the language in the statute, the hospice argued that the nurse was required to make a complaint to a board, such as the State Board of Nursing. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. Because the nurse had only complained within the company, the judge held that she was not protected.

The case made its way up to the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court. The court ultimately disagreed with the lower court and held that nurses who make internal complaints about unsafe practices are also protected from termination. Otherwise, employers could avoid responsibility by firing a complaining employee before he or she has a chance to make a complaint to the board. As long as the nurse described the unsafe practices in writing to a supervisor or administrator at her workplace, she was protected under the law.  

Maryland’s health care whistleblower law also protects employees who refuse to participate in illegal and unsafe activity at the workplace or who testify or otherwise participate in investigations or legal proceedings regarding an employer’s illegal and unsafe practices.

If you work as a nurse or other health care professional, and you have been fired for any of these activities, contact an experienced employment lawyer right away. A lawyer can help you try to get your job back, negotiate a settlement, or file a wrongful termination lawsuit.


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