Between the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals of Cleveland, MetroHealth Medical Center, and countless physician practices, nursing homes, and biotechnology companies, there are thousands of medical professionals in the Cleveland area. Like many other Cuyahoga County and Northeast Ohio employees, these medical professionals often face a wide range of employment law issues in the healthcare workplace.
Fighting Sexual Harassment for Nurses and Hospital Workers
One of the more common employment law issues to arise in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other healthcare workplaces is sexual harassment. Nurses, STNAs, office staff, and even doctors might face sexual harassment in a hospital or medical workplace. If you work in the healthcare field and have been subjected to sexual harassment, you need to contact a Cleveland employment law attorney right away in order to protect yourself and other potential victims.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under both federal and Ohio law. Generally, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other unwelcome comments or conduct of a sexual nature.
When accepting the offensive conduct is made a condition of continued employment, or when the conduct becomes so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment, it is illegal. If severe enough, even an isolated incident might give rise to a sexual harassment claim.
Both the harasser and the victim of sexual harassment might be male or female. In the hospital setting, a harasser might be the victim’s boss, a doctor, a co-worker, a supervisor or management employee from another area of the hospital, or even a patient.
Protecting Healthcare Workers with Lifting Restrictions
Another common employment law issue in the medical workplace involves lifting restrictions for employees with disabilities or pregnant employees.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Ohio’s disability discrimination law require employers to make reasonable accommodations to the known disabilities of employees. A reasonable accommodation is some alteration of a job duty or workplace policy made in order to help an employee with a disability perform the duties of the job. In the hospital setting, a fairly common problem is when a nurse or other patient-care employee needs a lifting restriction for a disability but the employer has a blanket “no light duty policy.” In those situations, if the employer refuses to grant an accommodation for the lifting restriction, the employee’s rights under the disability discrimination laws might have been violated. Ultimately, whether an employee with a disability will be entitled to a lifting restriction as a reasonable accommodation depends on the particular facts of the employee’s job and disability.
Similarly, pregnant employees with a lifting restriction may be entitled to light duty in a hospital workplace. As a general rule, under both Ohio law and the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employer must treat pregnant employees who are temporarily unable to perform a job duty due to pregnancy the same as it treats other temporarily disabled employees. By way of example, if the employer grants a lifting restriction to an employee after back surgery, it would likely have to permit a similar lifting restriction for a pregnant employee who needed one.
If you have a disability or are pregnant and have a lifting restriction, but are being refused light duty, the only way to know if your rights have been violated is to speak with an employment attorney who handles workplace disability and pregnancy discrimination.
Protecting Employees Who Need Medical Leave
The use of medical leave is another situation in which Ohio healthcare workers frequently need protection under the employment laws. When the need for medical leave arises, there are several laws that may entitle healthcare workers to protection.
A request for a period of medical leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the disability discrimination laws. If a healthcare professional qualifies as an individual with a disability, and needs a period of medical leave to deal with the effects of the disability, the employee’s request for medical leave is a request for a reasonable accommodation. The employer has an obligation to engage with the employee in a good faith interactive process when evaluating the request for a reasonable accommodation. The employer must grant the request unless it can show the medical leave would pose an undue hardship to the employer.
When a pregnant employee requests leave due to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer is obligated to treat the employee’s request the same as it would treat a request for similar leave from a non-pregnant employee with a medical need for leave. If the employer would grant leave to non-pregnant employees with medical conditions, it must grant leave to a pregnant employee who requests it as well.
Besides the disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination laws, there is an additional protection under federal law for employees who need medical leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, or “FMLA,” entitles certain employees to job-protected leave of up to twelve weeks over a given twelve month period. Eligible employees can take FMLA leave for their own serious health condition, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or for pregnancy and childbirth, among other things. FMLA leave needed as a result of childbirth can be taken for up to a year after the child is born, and can be taken by either the mother or father. Unfortunately, however, the FMLA does not protect employees many part-time employees, employees of small employers, and employees who have been employed at their current job for less than a year.
Whether an Ohio employee in a hospital or healthcare setting is entitled to leave under these employment discrimination laws can be a tricky question. To determine what legal protections you have, you should contact an experienced Cleveland employment law attorney.
Reviewing and Negotiating Contracts for Doctors
Doctors, hospital administrators, and other high-level employees typically have questions about the employment contracts they are required to sign. Employment contracts for medical professionals can cover a variety of topics, and may have special provisions regarding the healthcare field.
Employment contracts for doctors and other medical professionals can serve to protect the employee. But they also frequently impose significant obligations and restrictions on the doctor or other employee, both during and after employment. For example, an employment contract offered to a doctor may contain a restriction on the doctor’s ability to work for another employer once his or her employment ends, known as a noncompetition clause. If you are a doctor or hospital employee who has been offered an employment contract, you should have it reviewed by a knowledgeable employment law attorney so that you understand your rights and obligations.
Protection for Healthcare Whistleblowers
Sometimes, healthcare employees discover Medicare fraud, insurance fraud, patient abuse, workplace safety issues, or other illegal behavior at work. Unfortunately, employees who have the courage to report illegal conduct in the hospital or healthcare workplace might face retaliation in the form of harassment, demotion, pay cuts, or even termination.
A variety of Ohio and federal laws protect employees who report illegal behavior in the medical field, particularly when the employee reports employment discrimination, fraud, or matters relating to patient health and safety. One fairly new protection for hospital whistleblowers is under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That law protects employees from retaliation for complaining about or reporting certain illegal health insurance company practices such a denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition.
Medical professionals who have the courage to speak out when their employer breaks the law deserve both praise and protection. If you have been retaliated against for reporting Medicare fraud or other illegal conduct in the healthcare workplace, you should contact an attorney right away to protect your rights.
These are just a few of the issues that may arise for employees in Ohio healthcare workplaces. At Bolek Besser Glesius LLC, we have extensive experience handling legal issues for employees in the medical field. We understand the medical field, and chances are we have represented someone in your shoes. We’re here to help.