A nurse employed at a patient care facility posted the following comments on his Facebook page:
Ever have one of those days where you’d like to slap the ever loving bat snot out of a patient who is just being a jerk because they can? Nurses shouldn’t have to take abuse from you just because you are sick. In fact, it makes me less motivated to make sure your call light gets answered every time when I know that the minute I step into the room I’ll be greeted by a deluge of insults.
One of the employee’s Facebook “friends,” who by chance was a nursing professor, reported the post to the employer, expressing his concerns about patient safety. Although the employee responded that he was “just venting” and meant no harm, he was fired for violating the facility’s social media policy.
When the nurse’s application for unemployment benefits was denied, he appealed all the way to the state’s highest court, which upheld the denial of benefits in Talbot v. Desert View Care Center., 2014 Idaho LEXIS 172 (Idaho Sup. Ct. 2014). The court rejected the nurse’s argument that his Facebook post was simply a “rhetorical statement meant to initiate discussion.” It ruled that even if the post was not an actual threat, the employer had an expectation that its nurses would not make threatening statements about patients on Facebook, and that the nurse had failed to meet those expectations.
The takeaway from this case is that an employer is not required to wait until an employee actually neglects a patient (or customer, or client) who, in the employee’s opinion complains too much. Rather, the employer may instead take action to ensure that such harms do not occur in the first instance.