Court Rulings Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliatory Actions

Two recent high court rulings have added protections for corporate whistleblowers, including healthcare workers, to encourage reporting of fraudulent practices and poor patient care.

The California Supreme Court recently ruled, in Fahlen v. Sutter Central Valley Hospitals, in favor of the plaintiff, Dr. Mark Fahlen, MD, who claimed his job was terminated after he reported that nurses were failing to carry out his orders on numerous occasions, thus putting patients at risk. After his initial complaint, his employer, Sutter Central Valley Hospitals, conducted a peer review and found that he should remain on staff. He was later dismissed for alleged “disruptive” behavior, according to AMA Wire, a publication of the American Medical Association.

In its decision, court justices wrote, “A medical staff member who has suffered retaliatory discrimination ‘shall be entitled’ to redress, including, as appropriate, reinstatement and reimbursement of resulting lost income.” Click here to read the decision.

The US Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that whistleblower protections also apply to private contractors of corporations who come forward to report fraud and abuse in public companies, USA Today reported.

Both decisions have implications for the HIM industry, where HIM professionals frequently work in a contract capacity and in settings where they are likely to notice billing fraud or medical practices that could put patients at risk. While recent additions to HITECH-HIPAA law add whistleblower—or “corporate integrity advocate”—protections for organizations accused of wrongdoing, these recent rulings add needed protection from retaliation for individuals.


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