One Nurse’s Nightmare: Unfairly Terminated from Work

I am a 49 year old nurse who has similar stories. I have been an LPN for close to 30 years and have spent the last 10 years in the MDS field as an MDS coordinator. I have been proud for having excellent documentation skills and have always had a good reputation from anywhere I worked before.

I was recently terminated from a long term care facility for having a cell phone in my purse. The company has a strict cell phone policy whereby you are not to have a cell phone on your person. I signed the policy in agreement, having no objection to it. I never carried the phone directly on my person. As I worked in an MDS office and had a desk with drawers and cabinets in it, I did not realize it would be an act of misconduct to keep my phone (muted at all times) within my purse which was kept in a closed cabinet. I had an office phone by my desk which I used for making or receiving any telephone calls and never used the cell phone. Some of the other office workers also had cell phones which they kept in their purses and everybody sort of just kept it “hushed”. The floor nurses, nursing assistants and other department staff could use lockers in the back of the building to keep their possessions in and that was allowed by management.

I feel like my coworker may have been harboring ill feelings for me. She worked for the company for over 20 years and I was like the new kid on the block. She used to pass remarks about the other employees there. Often, she would sit in the office making private calls on her office telephone. She would also spend long periods of time sitting out on the nurses stations and making conversation with the floor nurses. She would punch off the clock at the appropriate time to avoid overtime, but would then return to the office and work off of the clock as to get her work done.

I, on the other hand, had responsibilities to get to at home. I came in early every day, put in my time and then went home after I clocked out. I feel like my coworker resented me for this. I say this because her mood would suddenly change as it came toward the end of the day and she saw me gathering my things to prepare to leave for the day. She would become all quiet and there were times when she never even answered me as I wished her a good evening and left. I did not want to have conflict with her, so I never confronted her and I never said anything to any of the other staff there, as I did not wish to talk derogatory about anyone. All I wanted to do was get my work done and as said earlier, I take pride in what I do.

One morning a few weeks before I was terminated, I came in to find that my desk had been rummaged through. I always kept my employee handbook on a particular shelf. Also, I used to keep papers, such as the calendars for who takes time on call, etc. This was stuff I felt was important as to show that I had taken my turns on call, etc. Anyway, all this stuff I had was gone. Later, when my coworker came in, she admitted that she had gone through my desk and said that she was only trying to help me straighten it out, that it was beginning to look messy, whatever… I resented this, but held my tongue.

On an afternoon a few weeks later, all employees were requested to bring their purses, lunch bags and any other personal items and that they had to report to the administrators office to be searched. The director of nurses told us that one of the visiting student nurses had reported that a bottle of prescription drugs was missing from her purse and that was the reason everyone was being searched. I have never worked anywhere before where I was asked to be searched, but agreed to this without objection. My coworker and I both brought our things to the administrators office and were searched by the director of nurses there. My cell phone was in my purse, but the director of nurses didn’t make a comment about seeing it.

On the following week, I was called into the conference room to meet with the director of nurses, the administrator and the human resource director and I was given a termination notice. I was terminated for violation of the cell phone policy and the way the director of nurses wrote it up was to say that I was “observed by two staff members as having a cell phone in my purse” and that I always kept my cell phone in my purse in an office which is considered a clinical area. Furthermore, violation of the cell phone policy was considered grounds for immediate termination and they were not going to even allow me verbal or written warning to try to correct this “misconduct”.

I was in such a state of shock and humiliation, I did not speak up and say anything for myself. I was not given a copy of the write up notice (which I later found that they were supposed to.) I was walked back to my office to collect my things while the director of nurses stood over me and watched. Of course, my employee handbook and other personal info papers was gone and so were any names/contacts numbers of corporate persons that I could try to turn to for assistance.

I went to try to collect unemployment, but my claim was denied due to “misconduct”. I have had to wait almost 2 months to appeal. Meanwhile, I have no income coming in other than a small amount of child support from my ex and I have had to apply for food stamps and medicaid for my children. I have a son with special needs and can not work shift work as I would not be able to find someone to watch him other than day hours. I have applied for multiple jobs on a weekly basis and have been to 7 jobs interviews. Seven job interviews without any call backs!

Unemployment finally provided me with a copy of the termination notice and also a copy of the original cell phone policy which I signed when I was hired on. Nothing meshes. The exact policy says no cell phone on your person. The write up notice accuses me not of having phone on my person, but accuses me of having the phone kept in my office which is named as a “clinical” area. Since when is an MDS office considered “clinical”? My perception of “clinical” is that it is the same this as a “resident care” area. And would it not be against HIPAA regulations to have patients in our office?

To sum it all up, I think I was set up, probably by my lovely coworker. I have found an attorney who is interested in my case and is willing to investigate a suit for wrongful termination, so at least someone is hearing me out. Thank you for allowing me to vent and please, if you have any advise to share, I would appreciate it.