Many people are fired every day for perfectly legitimate reasons. Maybe they’re consistently late for work, or they steal money for the cashier. Then there are those cases that make you question how a company organizes itself and its policies related to its employees. For many these instances make one side vehemently with the employee who seems to have been cheated out of their job. This is a case where a nurse was only trying to protect those she worked with, and the hospital she worked for took it upon themselves to fire her.
Theresa Puckett lost her job at University Hospitals over this case. Theresa was a “fill-in” nurse who violated the company’s extreme “no fault” absence policy. Being a fill-in nurse, she was obliged to cover shifts for the regular nurses, but this meant she ended working man shifts often at the drop of a hat.
Being called in like this made it difficult for Theresa to make it when she was sick. And, if she showed up for work, sick with the flu that nearly everyone was battling in December, she was sent home so that she wouldn’t infect the patients. Once in December, she was sent home, and once she was called out from work. These two “non-approved” absences within 60 days resulted in her firing. “I was putting in my cough drops, I was drinking my water,” Theresa remembers. “I mean the whole nine yards just to patch myself up enough to go to work.”
Despite all this effort, the hospital’s policy was so unforgiving that she was still fired! Theresa is quite lucid and understanding about the situation. She blames the hospital’s policy on a medical culture – and a culture that spreads beyond hospitals – that requires the unit to be fully staffed regardless of the circumstances affecting the employees.
This extends to situations where being fully staffed is actually dangerous because it means that nurses like Theresa are endangering patients with their own illnesses. Because the flu this year has been especially lethal, this situation was actually incredibly dangerous.
“There are times where I have gone to work so sick that the patient who is laying in the bed is in better condition than myself,” said Theresa. “I am more sick than the patient lying in the bed.”
Theresa’s employer, University Hospitals responded the incident by blaming their own policies. They attempted to explain the problem by referring to the “no-fault” attendance policy, which means that “notes from a doctor do not ‘excuse’ an occurrence of absence.”
It seems ridiculous that a hospital would have this policy in play, but it is actually consistent with other medical institutions nationwide. Instead, absences that may be excused are ones that include approved leaves of absence, workplace injuries or illnesses (i.e. the results of things that happen at the hospital), or scheduled paid time off such as vacation time. Other acceptable reasons for absence include doctor’s appointments, jury duty, or bereavement leave. The fact that Theresa’s doctor had told her to avoid contact with sick people did not qualify her to miss work. Being fired for this seems absolutely crazy!