Nurse Suspended For Wearing Mask At St John's In Santa Monica!! Is She Protected [by the law]? Can She Sue?
The Times reported today (see link here) that “Angela Gatdula, a Saint John’s nurse who fell ill with COVID-19, said she asked hospital managers why doctors were wearing N95s but nurses weren’t. She says they told her that the CDC said surgical masks were enough to keep her safe. Then she was hit with a dry cough, severe body aches and joint pain.”
What If Angela was suspended or wrongfully terminated? What are her rights?
Wrongful Termination In Violation of Public Policy
An at-will employee may be terminated for no reason, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason. There is no right to terminate for an unlawful reason or a purpose that contravenes fundamental public policy.
Termination of employment can be a violation of public policy if a law or rule protects the employee for engaging in certain conduct. More commonly known as “Whistleblowers.”
In recent weeks, images of doctors and nurses fighting for our lives has brought much attention to what infection controls and safety precautions should be taken by hospitals, nurses and doctors. But what about essential workers? What is the employer’s obligation to protect the health and safety of all employees?
What if you complain and get fired. Do you have a case?
The law recognizes that a lawsuit can be filed by an employee discharged after complaining to employer about working conditions which employee reasonably believed to be unsafe. If you have an issue at work that puts your health and safety at work, there is recourse.
What Should You Do
- Document, document, document. Make a written record of your complaint and deliver it to the proper department/supervisor. I cannot stress this enough.
- DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING when you are fired. That is not a severance package, they are trying to get you to sign a waiver and buy their peace knowing you are probably entitled to more compensation;
- External Complaints. If your employer’s violation is subject to a specific part of state or federal law, it’s a good idea to start with an organization like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational and Safety Hazards Administration, or even your state’s labor offices; and last but not least,
- Call Us Immediately: In cases in which the employer violates public or even company policy, a private lawsuit is often the only way to settle disputes.