Whistleblower Protection for Hospital and Health Care Industry Employees
Health care facilities must comply with California Health and Safety Codes in order to ensure that patients and medical staff are not subjected to an unreasonable risk of health or safety within the facility. At times, hospital and other medical facility employees observe conditions that run the risk of creating a danger, but often worry that reporting the condition might cost them their job.
Health and Safety Code § 1278.5 protects individuals who lodge complaints about healthy or safety conditions, so that they are not subject to threats or retaliation from the health care facility in which they work. Specifically, the statute prohibits health care facilities from retaliating against or otherwise discriminating against employees, medical staff, or patients for voicing a complaint or grievance regarding the quality of care or conditions at the health care facility.
The legislative history behind the statute gives insight to its purpose: “The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of the State of California to encourage patients, nurses, members of the medical staff, and other health care workers to notify government entities of suspected unsafe patient care and conditions. The Legislature encourages this reporting in order to protect patients and in order to assist those accreditation and government entities charged with ensuring that health care is safe.” To be held liable under the statute, the facility must satisfy the definition of a health care facility as defined in Health and Safety Code §1250.
As part of the objective of the statute, retaliation against employees who have complained either to an employer or to the government about the conditions of the premises are entitled to reinstatement, reimbursement, or damages. Retaliation can include: wrongful termination discharge, demotion, suspension, or any unfavorable changes in the terms or conditions of employment of the employee, member of the medical staff, or any other health care worker of the health care facility, or the threat of doing any of these actions. Further, the facility itself can be fined up to $25,000 for each of the violations.
As an example: If a nurse working at a hospital makes a complaint to the Chief of Medicine about the condition of worn out medical equipment which is being used on patients in the hospital, and the hospital Board of Directors finds out about it and subsequently fires the nurse, reduces her hours, or demotes her position, then the nurse would likely have a claim against the hospital for violation of Health and Safety Code § 1278.5.
If you have complained about risks or issues of patient safety or health and feel you have been treated differently at work (terminated, disciplined unfairly, hours reduced, shift changed, received the “cold shoulder” or something similar) give us a call today.