Healthcare professionals who complain about patient-safety and substandard healthcare are protected against retaliation from their employers. Generally speaking, the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (Minn. Stat. § 181.932) (“MWA”) protects employees who, in good faith, report a violation, suspected violation, or planned violation of law. To be protected, the report must be made to the employee’s employer, a government body, or law enforcement official. The MWA also protects employees who refuse an order to perform an unlawful action.
The MWA also specifically protects employees who report “a situation in which the quality of health care services provided by a health care facility, organization, or health care provider violates a standard established by federal or state law or a professionally recognized national clinical or ethical standard and potentially places the public at risk of harm.” Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subd. 4.
How the MWA Protects Healthcare Workers
This provision broadly protects healthcare professionals who report substandard care and other patient-safety issues, as it grants protection to employees who report not just violations of law, but violations of clinical and ethical standards. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held accordingly in Metcalf v. Allina Health System, No. A20-1620, 2021 WL 4059660 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 7, 2021). In Metcalf, the court found an employee’s complaint about insufficient staffing to be protected, as Minnesota broadly requires hospitals to ensure that there are “enough qualified personnel on duty to provide the standard of care and maintenance in the hospital which is necessary for the well-being” of its patients. Id. (citing Minn. R. 4640.0900, subp. 2).
Employees Not Required to Identify Particular Violation
The Minnesota Supreme Court has also made clear that for the report to be protected, employees don’t have to research which particular law has been violated and be able to identify it for their employer. Abraham v. County of Hennepin, 639 N.W.2d 342, 354-55 (Minn. 2002). To establish protected conduct, an employee:
need not identify the specific law or rule that the employee suspects has been violated, so long as there is a federal or state law or rule adopted pursuant to law that is implicated by the employee’s complaint, the employee reported the violation or suspected violation in good faith, and the employee alleges facts that, if proven, would constitute a violation of law or rule adopted pursuant to law.
Id. As healthcare workers continue to face greater workloads and productivity demands, the protections afforded by the MWA are as important as ever for these workers, as well as their patients. If you have faced retaliation for reporting substandard healthcare or patient-safety issues, contact us; we can help you evaluate your legal rights and next steps.