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Example of Types of Whistleblower Cases Handled: Protections for Health Care Workers

Employee Rights in the Health Care Field

Employees working in the health care field may encounter employee rights issues that are unique to their industry.

Many health care employees provide direct care to patients. For example, Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Medical Assistants, and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are often called upon to perform heavy physical tasks such as patient transfers. These employees may encounter situations where they are not provided with sufficient staffing assistance or equipment to perform their job duties safely. The Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (MWPA) protects employees who make good faith reports regarding conditions or practices in their workplace which may endanger their own health or safety. Health care workers may have legal recourse under the MWPA if they are retaliated against by their employer for reporting and opposing an unsafe condition or practice. An example would be if an employee complains about the lack of adequate staffing or a hoyer lift to safety move a patient and is terminated.

Health care workers are also entitled to reasonable accommodations for protected conditions under the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Another federal law, the Rehabilitation Act, also provides additional protection for employees who work for entities that receive federal financial assistance such as Medicare and Mainecare. The Rehabilitation Act has no caps on compensatory damages (unlike the MHRA and ADA) and does not require that the employee file a charge with the Maine Human Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing suit.

The MWPA also protects health care workers for reporting and opposing conditions or practices that may endanger the health or safety of patients and conditions or practices that deviate from the applicable standard of patient care. Health care workers are the principal witnesses to the quality of health care, particularly with patients who are unable to communicate and/or advocate for themselves. Therefore, the law protects health care workers who stand up and make good faith reports regarding issues with patient care.

Health care workers who witness fraudulent billing of the federal government have protections under the False Claims Act (FCA). Health care workers may witness that their employer is billing Medicare or Mainecare for services that were not provided or billing for services without complying with all of the regulatory conditions for billing. In these situations, the health care worker may be able to bring a Qui Tam claim on behalf of the government to address the fraud. The FCA also contains an anti-retaliation provision. So, if a health care worker reports, opposes, or takes steps to investigate potential fraud and non-compliance in connection with billing the federal government they are protected from retaliation by their employer.

If you work in the health care field and are subjected to harassment, retaliation, or discrimination you should consult with a qualified attorney to understand your rights and recourse.