Nurses face challenges every day in their profession and are subject to Florida Nursing Law. In addition to making patient care their primary focus, today’s nurses must be savvy about the law and its effect on their careers.
Nurses are the largest group of caregivers and professional licensees not only in Florida but nationwide. In almost every situation, they are the patient’s advocate. This burden also includes taking into consideration the law’s requirements for practice. To review just some of the curves and bends, a nurse must take into consideration the following:
After completing educational requirements, nursing graduates apply to the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to obtain a license. Careful consideration must be given when answering questions on the Application for Licensure with an emphasis on completeness and accuracy. Be careful when answering questions relating to background offenses, disciplines, and/or mental and physical fitness. The general rule is “when in doubt…disclose information.” However, sometimes it is how the answer is phrased and/or listed on the application that affects whether or not DOH quickly approves the nurse applicant. If DOH rejects the application, the nurse applicant must be notified in writing with a document entitled “Notice of Intent to Deny License.” This document sets forth the basis and provides the opportunity for the nurse applicant to challenge the denial either through litigation or an appearance before the Board of Nursing.
Background Checks for Employment
During the license application phase, background checks are initially run on the nurses. However, more often than not, employers will run a background check or screening as part of their pre-employment process. If the background check or screening comes back with a criminal incident or arrest report, most employers are legally required to report this information to the Agency for Health Care Administration and/or the Department of Health and Board of Nursing. In most instances, there are avenues for obtaining an exemption from disqualification from employment so that the nurse can continue to practice nursing. Our AHCA and DOH page provides more information.
Patient or Employer Initiated Complaints
Nurses who are served with an Administrative Complaint have 21 days to file an Election of Rights (EOR). Their options at this point are usually limited to the following:
- Informal Hearing – nurse admits to the truth of the allegations and argues for lesser penalties before her/his professional Board.
- Formal Hearing – nurse asks for a formal trial before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to challenge DOH’s
- Waiving of Rights – nurse waives all rights to a written notice and to object/challenge her/his case. [I never advise my clients to choose this option].
- Settlement Agreement – DOH offers a settlement agreement. However, often times, an experienced health care attorney may be able to leverage a better settlement agreement out of the prosecutor.
For more information see our popular blog topic on Florida DOH Investigations.
Allegations of Substance Abuse – Intervention Project for Nurses Florida (IPN)
Allegations of alcohol or drug abuse can be devastating on any career. The good news is that if the allegations are handled properly, a nurse does not necessarily have to lose her/his license. Of course, this is often true if the problem is addressed up front.
Generally, a complaint against a nurse for substance or alcohol abuse comes from the employer who reports the nurse to DOH. Other instances may include (1) DOH learns of the problem through other avenues, such as DUI charge (driving under influence), or criminal charge, or (2) nurse “self-reports.” Upon receipt of the complaint, DOH opens an investigation.
If the case is serious enough, DOH will file either an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO) or an Administrative Complaint (AC). ESO immediately suspends the license and the nurse is notified of a hearing months later. If AC is filed, the license is not immediately suspended, but the hearing is scheduled in the near future (unless the case is resolved prior to the hearing).
Employment & Workers Compensation Issues
Employment disputes arise from conflicts between nurses and management. Depending upon the nature of the dispute, certain laws may apply. Because Florida is known as an “at-will” state, an employer can terminate an employee without a reason if there is no written contract of employment. In either case, review of a particular situation with an experienced health care attorney is always beneficial.
Another area closely related to employment issues is workers’ compensation. Under Section 440.13, Florida Statutes, the employer has to furnish “remedial treatment, care, and attendance” for as long as the injury requires it, including the cost of transportation for medical treatment. Numerous studies have concluded that nursing, as a career, can be hazardous. This issue has come up recently in the news. NPR provides excellent information on this topic in a recent post.
Generally speaking, healthcare employers vigorously defend most workers’ compensation claims. This is not to say that if a nurse is actually injured on the job, the employer should not be asked to provide benefits and treatment under the Florida’s Workers Compensation Act. Employers are required to furnish benefits and treatment to injured nurses.
The practice of nursing faces challenges that are unique to its profession. The amount of laws and regulations that nurses are subjected to and must be familiar with to be successful complicates it even further. A review of a particular situation by an experienced health care attorney is always advisable.