Illegal Things You Should Know About Remote Nursing Jobs

Did you know it’s not uncommon for illegal practices to occur when being hired or working as an employee?

Whether your role is as a remote nurse or a bedside nurse, knowing your rights as an employee can help you confidently set boundaries and know what you deserve. Here are some of the most common legal employment topics and what you can apply in the workforce.

Why do employment contracts matter?

The distinction between being an employee and an independent contractor directly impacts your rights regarding overtime pay and benefits, says Michael Cummings, an attorney, small business owner, and assistant professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

As an independent contractor, you:

  • Run your business
  • Decide when and how you work
  • Set payment rates
  • May work with multiple companies
  • Are responsible for your own taxes, health insurance, retirement savings, and any other benefits

As an employee, you:

  • Work for a business
  • Receive a package of benefits
  • Follow structured work hours
  • Have an employer who assists you with payroll taxes

Why is this important to know? Cummings emphasizes that businesses may misclassify your employment to avoid their expenses and payroll taxes. “This may seem beneficial initially, but it could cause unexpected tax liabilities.” So, understand your classification early on in the hiring process, and ask clarifying questions.

What is an at-will state?

The at-will state discussion often occurs during the onboarding process. The HR department will remind you of the regulations they must follow in their state. If you work remotely, this is based on the company’s geography, and not the state in which you reside.

In an at-will state:

  • Your employer may terminate your employment for any reason
  • You are able to terminate your own employment at any time

Even in an at-will state, your employer still cannot terminate your employment for an illegal reason, like discrimination of a protected class or due to retaliation.

Cummings adds, “Most states adhere to at-will employment principles, allowing for termination without cause, but it’s essential to be aware of your rights and potential protections against wrongful termination, particularly regarding illegal discrimination or retaliation.”

What should I know about PTO and FMLA?

Paid time off

Some states have regulations regarding paid time off. To learn more, visit the website of the state labor board. 

Much of a company’s paid time off practices will be dictated by company policy. For example, when you leave the company, the company may only pay out PTO from one specific classification, like vacation time, meaning any accrued sick time will vanish. 

Learn the company PTO policy when you first start the job to guide you on the best ways to use and save PTO while you work there.

FMLA

The Family Leave and Medical Act can provide you with up to 12 unpaid work weeks per year. 

To quality, you must:

  • Work for a covered employer, meaning they have a certain amount of employees 
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months, or about 26 hours per week
  • Have worked for the company for at least 12 months

You can use FMLA either all at once, or intermittently. Intermittent FMLA works well for a dispersed personal need, like a chronic health condition that flares up, or caring for a chronically ill family member from time to time. Most employers require you to exhaust PTO before tapping into FMLA leave hours.

FMLA is protected leave, meaning you can’t be terminated because you used FMLA. If you suspect you are let go for that reason, you may have a legal case. 

If you want to take paid leave, look into company policies regarding short-term disability, which may pay you a percentage of your salary while you’re on leave. 

What should I know about the hiring process?

“During the hiring process for a remote nursing job, be mindful of your rights,” Cummings says. 

Employers cannot inquire about:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Marital status
  • Disability status

All of the above are considered protective classes. What should you do if an interviewer asks about one of these topics? “Stay calm and professional. You can politely decline to answer, or steer the question back to your qualifications,” Cummings explains. “Remember, you’re not obligated to disclose personal details that have no bearing on your ability to do the job.”

What if I have a disability?

If you have a disability, your employer must provide accommodations during the hiring process and on the job. 

Employers cannot:

  • Ask intrusive questions about the nature of your disability
  • Inquire about the severity of the disability
  • Request medical records pertaining to your disability, except what is necessary to assess the accommodation request

“When an employee requests a disability accommodation, employers are allowed to ask for documentation or demonstration of the disability and how it affects job performance,” Cummings explains. “They can also ask questions about the specific accommodations needed and discuss potential alternatives if the requested accommodation poses an undue hardship.”

How do severance and termination work?

Because most states adhere to at-will employment principles, you are likely subject to termination at any point without cause. (Which is all the more reason to always have your resume updated and your LinkedIn account polished!)

However, be aware of your rights against wrongful termination, Cummings reiterates. 

Discrimination and retaliation are among the most common reasons for illegal termination, and it’s still illegal even if you reside in an at-will state. 

Examples of illegal discrimination are:

  • Losing your job after your employer discovers your pregnancy
  • Getting fired after you told your employer you received genetic testing that reveals you are at risk for developing a terminal condition
  • Being dismissed due to your sexual orientation

Common situations that could incur retaliation may include:

  • Taking a safety concern to its regulatory board
  • Going up the chain of command when noticing protocols are not enforced
  • Making a report that you were harassed or assaulted while at work
  • Filing a worker’s compensation claim for a workplace injury

When you first start a new job, review the terms and conditions pertinent to termination so you’re prepared. This includes:

  • Severance pay
  • Non-compete terms
  • Non-disclosure terms

Cummings shares, “Severance pay, unless contractually guaranteed, is not a given and often comes with conditions, such as waiving the right to pursue legal action against the employer.” 

Before signing any type of severance agreement, consult with an employment attorney. It’s possible the agreement prevents you from filing for unemployment benefits. Or worse, it might prevent you from bringing up a possible wrongful termination case due to discrimination or retaliation.

Finding Legal Support

If you want to find an affordable attorney, look for ones that advertise:

  • Contingency only
  • Pro bono
  • Free consultation
  • No retainer

Final Thoughts

Whether you need legal help now or are only looking to be more informed, knowing your employee rights will help you place yourself in the best case scenario with your workplace rights. 
Looking to keep your resume up to date just in case? Check out the Nurse Fern website for more information!