Nurses’ Rights 101: 7 Laws Protecting Your Rights (and Career)


Jim Garrity is an employee rights lawyer.  He doesn’t help employers, ever.  Nor does he fracture his work into multiple practice areas. It’s 100% employees’ rights, 24/7/365, for employees only.  More about his incredible background here.

He’s represented many nurses – from CNAs to LPNs to RNs to ARNPs.  Nurses are on healthcare’s front lines.  They save lives.  They see terrible suffering.  They experience emotional trauma themselves.  Sometimes, they witness patient abuse, and substandard medical care caused by the facility’s cost-cutting practices. Tragically, nurses also see the poor forced onto the streets because they can’t pay for care.  And, as for themselves, nurses often experience sexual harassment, discrimination based on their gender or age, and retaliation for speaking out.

Some of the Laws Protecting Nurses in The Workplace

But there are potent laws protecting you if you’re a nurse.  Here are just a few that allow you to fight back:

  • Whistleblower laws. There are dozens of state and federal laws protecting nurses who document or speak out about patient-care violations.  This can range from dangerous understaffing, outright patient abuse, falsified chart entries, medication errors, false claims by employers to increase government reimbursements – on and on.  Jim has successfully represented nurses who were fired after reporting – to list just a few examples – patients being beaten with their own hairbrush, patients sprayed in showers with hot water to punish them, medication errors, chart falsifications, doctor errors, and fraudulent billing claims.
  • EMTALA – EMTALA is a federal law that requires hospital emergency rooms to medically screen every patient who seeks emergency care and to stabilize or transfer those with medical emergencies, regardless of health insurance status or ability to pay. Many hospitals force such patients out the door once the hospital learns the patient can’t pay, even before the patient’s life-threatening condition is stabilized.  Jim is currently suing a hospital on behalf of an RN who was fired for objecting to the immediate discharge of an ER patient who’d suffered a critical injury.  The hospital ejected sent the patient and drove him to a homeless shelter instead.
  • Title VII – This law forbids sexual harassment, as well as discrimination based on gender, race, age and disability.   Nurses represented by Jim Garrity have reported being sexually harassed by doctors, patients or facility guests.  Your employer is obligated to protect you against harassment from whatever source, and that includes your patients, their families, and vendors.  Older nurses have reported being forced out or onto undesirable shifts.  Jim has sued hundreds of employers for discrimination.
  • FMLA.  The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Sometimes healthcare employers are utterly intolerant of employees who have medical needs of their own.  It’s an odd reaction.  Hospitals will gladly care for paying patients, but they don’t want to deal with their own employees’ medical needs.  FMLA violations are commonly suffered by healthcare employees.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  This law forbids employers from treating you differently because of your pregnancy.  Some healthcare employees tell us that they began receiving rough treatment as soon as they disclosed their pregnancy.  Some were fired shortly after disclosure, some during maternity leave and some after returning. Jim has won large settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients fired because of pregnancy.
  • Wage and hour laws.  An employer must pay you for time worked.  Let’s say that again.  All unpaid off-the-clock work is illegal.  And no private-sector employer can offer “comp time” instead of pay.  That’s limited to government employers and employees.
  • Anti-retaliation laws.  Each of the laws above allows nurses who’ve exercised their rights to sue employers who retaliate against them.

What You Can Recover, And About Those Unions

Generally speaking, you can recover lost past wages, future lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.  You can also be reinstated.  In one recent lawsuit, Jim Garrity won a $284,000 verdict for a client, got a court order reinstating his client, and then negotiated a deal where our client gave up his right to reinstatement in exchange for an additional payment of $186,000.  The total to Jim’s client?  $470,000.00.  Best of all, the employer, not Jim’s client, paid his fees.  So the client kept the entire $470,000.

One question we hear from nurses is, should I join a union?  How will it help me?  These are tough questions.  Unions have a place.  But we do hear complaints that when help is really needed, the union wasn’t there.  Clients tell us their union didn’t put up a fight, and didn’t have any expertise in employee rights’ law.  A common complaint we hear is that because the union shop steward or rep is also an employee who can be fired at any time, the rep was as nervous about being fired as the nurse they were supposed to protect.  Many of our clients have said they felt better protected by Jim’s efforts.

The Basic Questions, and the Basic Answers

How do I know if my rights have been violated?

The easiest way is to ask yourself a few questions in three categories:

  1.  Are you being treated differently because of something about you that’s different than your coworkers?  Your race?  Your age?  Your gender?  Your pregnancy or need for maternity leave?  Your physical or mental health?
  2. Did you recently exercise your legal rights?  Such as by asking for medical leave, maternity leave, or to be paid for time you spent working off the clock? And after making these requests, were you refused, harassed even if your request was satisfied, or punished through unfair actions up to and including termination?
  3. Did you report what you believed were violations of the law, only to experience payback, harsher treatment, or termination?

If you answer yes, the odds are good your rights have been violated.

What types of actions do employers take that would rise to the level of a lawsuit?

The list of things that would trigger a legitimate lawsuit is too long to list here.  But here are some examples that Jim Garrity passed along:  Termination; unjust discipline; reassignment/stripping of duties; demotion/transfer; poor evaluation scores; exclusion from workplace events; harassment/hostile work environment; failure to promote; workplace isolation; intimidation; layoff; pay cuts; reduced hours/unfavorable shift assignment; denial of severance pay; bad references; failure to accommodate medical needs; suspension; refusal to provide necessary training.

What do I do if I want to talk to you confidentially before I decide to take action?

Call us, at (800) 663-7999, or email Jim directly at  All initial consultations are free.  You’ll speak with Jim directly.  His extremely deep experience from suing thousands of employers across Florida and Georgia allows him to answer virtually any question on the spot, so you won’t wait weeks for an answer.   If you have a case, he’ll tell you.  If you don’t, he’ll share that, too.   And every case is accepted on a contingency basis, which means if he doesn’t recover anything for you, you owe nothing.

Who should I talk to first?  Jim, or my HR department? 

Easy.  Jim.  Read more here to see why.

Categories: Accommodations, Complaints & Documentation, Discrimination

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