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Nurse Terminated for Bringing Pt. Absentee Ballot Papers.

IS IT MISCONDUCT FOR A NURSE TO BRING A PATIENT AN APPLICATION FOR AN ABSENTEE BALLOT? What if the patient requests the application? What if the nurse brings the application to the patient during non-working hours? These were just some of the issues with which the courts were confronted in this extraordinary case in which a nurse (who was running for a political office) responded to a patient's request for an application for an absentee ballot. Despite the fact that she provided the patient with an application and witnessed the patient's signature on the application during non-duty hours, the nurse was terminated. Were her constitutional rights violated?

BARBARA BRANDON (WHO WAS RUNNING FOR PUBLIC OFFICE) WAS EMPLOYED AS A NURSE AT BAPTIST HOSPITAL. The hospital's administrator received an anonymous letter stating that Nurse Brandon had engaged in "campaigning or soliciting for voters while on duty at the hospital." Upon receipt of the letter, Nurse Brandon's department head called her in to inquire about the accusation. Nurse Brandon denied campaigning or soliciting voters while on duty. This meeting was brief and nothing was recorded in the nurse's personnel records regarding the issue. Another anonymous letter was received. Again Nurse Brandon was asked by her department head about the accusation. Again she replied that she had not engaged in such activity. She was presented with a copy of an absentee ballot application of one of her patients, Mary Lee. The application contained Nurse Brandon's signature. However, she stated that she was unaware that what she had done qualified as "campaigning" or "solicitation" and this is why she did not inform her department head of this. She also stated that she was "off-duty" at the time of the incident. Baptist Hospital maintained that Nurse Brandon intentionally circumvented the "on-duty" requirement of hospital rules. The hospital maintained that Nurse Brandon's silence indicated that she knew her conduct violated hospital policy. Nurse Brandon was immediately suspended and subsequently terminated. Nurse Brandon applied for and was denied unemployment insurance benefits by the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (Board). She appealed. The Lowndes County Circuit Court affirmed the Board's decision denying benefits. Nurse Brandon appealed.

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSISSIPPI REVERSED THE JUDGMENT OF THE LOWER COURT. The court recognized the issue to be whether the termination of the employee was "for good cause." The employee had never seen the hospital's policy and the policy was so vague as to make it speculative as to what conduct was prohibited. Further, the policy was undated, did not have an effective date, and if taken literally, impinged upon the constitutional rights of the nurse. After reviewing the hospital's policy prohibiting solicitation by hospital employees while they are on duty, the court carefully reviewed the hospital's Policy and Procedure's Manual as to solicitations. The court found it important to define the concept of solicitation. According to Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990) to solicit is to "appeal for something; to apply for obtaining something; to ask earnestly; to ask for the purpose of receiving; to awake or incite to action by acts or conduct intended to and calculated to incite the act of giving." When looking at Nurse Brandon's conduct in such a light, the court could not find that she was in violation of the solicitation rules in the hospital manual. The nurse was asked by the patient for assistance in obtaining an application for an absentee ballot. There were no facts in the record indicating that Nurse Brandon intended to induce the patient to ask her for the application in order to benefit herself. Furthermore, the application obtained for the patient was just that--an application.

NURSES SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO BE ACTIVE IN POLITICS AND SEEK POLITICAL OFFICE. The decision of the lower court would have a chilling effect not only on nurses running for public office but on those merely helping patients obtain applications for absentee ballots. Any hospital policy which would discourage nurses from participating in the political process or running for political office should be carefully scrutinized by the courts. While nurses should not campaign for political office while on duty no one should deny nurses the right to participate in the political process in their "off-duty" time. In fact, given the high esteem in which nurses are held, our political system would benefit immeasurably by more participation by nurses in the political process. Brandon v. Mississippi Employment Security Commission, 2000 WL 1460767 So.2d - MS (2000)
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Article Details
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Author:Tammelleo, David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:742
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