INDUSTRY
November 9, 2022

Whistleblower Rights And Protections For Nurses

Whistleblower Rights And Protections For Nurses

As nurses, we play a critical role in protecting patient safety and quality of care. We are often the first to witness potential problems making us key players in identifying and addressing any issues. Unfortunately, nurses face unique challenges when speaking up about situations we observe. We face concerns going on deaf ears or sometimes receive retaliation from employers and colleagues when speaking up. 

Despite these challenges, nurses need to understand their rights and protections as whistleblowers. This blog post will explore what whistleblower protections exist for nurses and how they can best use them to speak up about important issues. 

What is a whistleblower? 

A whistleblower is someone who reports misconduct, usually within an organization. This can include illegal activity, such as fraud or corruption, or abusive or dangerous working conditions. Whistleblowers may be protected from retaliation by law. Several federal and state laws protect employees (including nurses) from retaliation when reporting conditions that violate the law, public health, or unsafe working conditions. These laws protect nurses from being fired, demoted, suspended, disclination, and any other harmful actions perceived as retaliation.  

What are the federal laws involved? 

The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) was initially passed as a law in 1978 and has been revised and updated three times. WPA protects employees that disclose any information they believe violates laws, regulations, mismanagements, rules, waste of funds, abuse of authority, and endangering public health and safety. However, the WPA is specific to protecting federal employees or anyone who works for the government.  

The laws that protect nurse whistleblowers are the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and the False Claims Act (FCA). The NLRA protects employees who engage in organized activity to improve their working conditions. OSHA protects employees who report unsafe working conditions and has specific federal laws that protect against retaliation against workers who have submitted a complaint. The FCA protects employees who report fraud against the government, such as with Medicare and Medicaid claims. The NLRA, in the case of healthcare workers, allows them the right to organize and discuss issues in the workplace and how to better them. 

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What are the state laws involved? 

Certain states have laws prohibiting employers from retaliating against a whistleblower who reported unsafe or unlawful practices. Since some states have their own anti-retaliation laws that can help nurses, we will list them each. 

Alabama 

Alabama nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Alaska 

Alaska nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Arizona 

Arizona has its own state statutes § 23-425 and  § 23-1501 that prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee who has filed a complaint and prevent them from terminating the employee. Arizona nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Arkansas 

Arkansas nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA.  

California 

California has the California Labor Code 6310 and 6311 that prohibits retaliation against employees for complaints and retaliation against refusing to work if there is a violation of safety and health standards. California nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Colorado 

Colorado nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA.

Connecticut 

Connecticut nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Delaware 

Delaware nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Florida 

Florida has state statutes § 448.102 that prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee when reporting or threatening to report an activity that violates law, regulation, or rule. In this statute, the employee must follow the chain of command and bring the information to a supervisor or other management to correct unlawful activities. Florida nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Georgia 

Georgia nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Idaho 

Idaho nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Illinois 

Illinois has state statutes § 210 ILCS 86/35 that states a hospital can not retaliate against an employee who reports activity that violates the health or safety of a patient or the public. Illinois nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Indiana 

Indiana nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Iowa 

Iowa nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Kansas 

Kansas nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Kentucky 

Kentucky nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Louisiana 

Louisiana nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Maine 

Maine nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Maryland 

Maryland nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Massachusetts 

Massachusetts nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Michigan 

Michigan has state laws §333.20180 that protect healthcare employees who report a violation from retaliation. Michigan nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Minnesota 

Minnesota nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Mississippi 

Mississippi nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Missouri 

Missouri nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Montana 

Montana has a state statute § 39-2-904 that prevents an employee from being terminated when the employee refuses to violate a public policy or reports a public health and safety issue. Montana nurses are also federally covered by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Nebraska 

Nebraska nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Nevada 

Nevada has state statutes § 618.445 that prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee after filing a complaint with the Division of Industrial Relations. Nevada nurses are also covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

New Hampshire 

New Hampshire nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

New Mexico 

New Mexico nurses are federally covered through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

New York 

New York has Labor Code Article 20-C that prohibits healthcare employers from retaliating against employees who have complained about improper patient care. New York Nurses are also covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

North Carolina 

North Carolina has a General Statute §95-241 that prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee after filing a complaint that is related to occupational health and safety. North Carolina nurses are also covered federally by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

North Dakota 

North Dakota nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Ohio 

Ohio has a Revised Code § 4113.52 that prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee when reporting a violation that is believed to be a public health and safety hazard. Ohio nurses are also covered federally by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Oklahoma 

Oklahoma nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Oregon 

Oregon has a Revised State Statute § 654.062 that prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for opposing practices against Oregon's Safe Employment Act. Oregon nurses are also covered federally by OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Pennsylvania 

Pennsylvania nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Rhode Island 

Rhode Island nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

South Carolina 

South Carolina nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

South Dakota  

South Dakota nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Tennessee 

Tennessee nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Texas 

Texas has a Health and Safety Code § 161.134 that prohibits a hospital from retaliating against employees who make a complaint against a violation of law, patient abuse, or any type of unethical conduct. Texas nurses are also covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Utah 

Utah nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Vermont 

Vermont nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Virginia 

Virginia has a State Code  §40.1-51.2:1 that prohibits retaliation against an employee who filed a complaint regarding safety or health violations. Virginia nurses are also covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Washington 

Washington's Revised Code § 43.70.075 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make a complaint and allows them to remain confidential. Washington nurses are also protected federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

West Virginia 

West Virginia nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Wisconsin 

Wisconsin has a State Statute 146.997 that prohibits a healthcare employer from retaliating against an employee who reports a violation of law or ethical standards provided by the facility. Wisconsin nurses are also protected federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

Wyoming 

Wyoming nurses are covered federally through OSHA, FCA, and NLRA. 

How does this affect nurses? 

A part of the nurse's role is advocating for patient protection and safety while navigating workplace restrictions. Nurses may face being fired or bullied after reporting unsafe practices. Retaliation can prevent nurses from making reports leading to public health and patient safety concerns in a healthcare environment. 

Nurses are protected under whistleblower protection laws when they report abuse, neglect, or any other illegal activity. This protects nurses from being retaliated against by their employers for reporting any issues. This is important because it ensures that nurses can report any concerns without fear of retribution. 

What happens if you face retaliation? 

Retaliation may come in several forms after speaking up about concerns in the workplace that can affect the way you work or affect patient safety. On a federal level, OSHA protects nurses who have complained to their employers or other regulated agencies as whistleblowers.  

You can file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the retaliation against you. File a complaint with OSHA here.  

If you need to file a complaint with the FCA for healthcare fraud, you can do so with this link.  

To report violations to the NLRB, you can follow these instructions.  

If your state has specific state guidelines for filing a complaint, then you can also file directly through your state.  

>>Nurses, here's how to anonymously pitch nurse news stories to nurse.org editors. Nurse.org is the leading news source for the nursing community.