Under Wisconsin’s Health Care Worker Protection Act (Wis. Stat. §146.997), an employee of a health care facility (e.g. hospital or nursing home) or health care provider (doctors, dentists and other health professionals) may not be disciplined for any good faith reporting of:

• any potential violations of state or federal law by the health care facility or provider, or

• any situation where care violates state or federal standards or laws, or recognized clinical or ethical standards, and poses a potential risk to public health or safety.

For example, an employee who included information in a “quality assurance” report about the inattention of another employee, which she believed led to a patient’s injury, was found to have made a protected report. In another case, a doctor reported to clinic officials his belief that another physician had provided patients unwarranted procedures for financial gain; this report was also found to be legally protected. To be protected, a report must be made in good faith. The Health Care Worker Protection Act states a report is not in good faith if the employee reports information the employee “knows or should know is false or misleading.”

Protected reports include internal reports to any director, officer or supervisor of the health care facility or provider. The law also protects employees who report to an agency or body that accredits, certifies or approves the facility or provider, unless disclosure is prohibited by law. Such agencies include Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, Division of Quality Assurance, as well as licensing agencies that regulate health professionals.

The law is designed to encourage health care workers to make such reports without fear of employer retaliation. If an agency receives a report it must notify the facility or provider within 5 days of the nature of the report, but it cannot disclose the identity of the person who made the report.

An employee who believes he or she has been disciplined or threatened with discipline based on a protected report can file a complaint with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division. The employee must prove the disciplinary action taken or threatened was related to the protected report. If an employee can prove this connection, the employee can be reinstated and receive back pay and attorneys’ fees.

If you have questions about your legal protection as a health care worker or believe you have been disciplined based upon your report of a violation of law or standard, contact the experienced Wisconsin employment attorneys at Hawks Quindel.

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