Does a nurse have to pay back her sign-on bonus?

In an email, a nurse recounted how she signed a contract to work the night shift on weekends at a local hospital and received a $10,000 sign-on bonus. Shortly after beginning orientation, her shift was given to someone else and the nurse was told she would be working the day shift five days a week.

In addition to this major change, the nurse found out that “infection control standards” at the hospitals were not being met. The nurse discovered four other nurses left their jobs at the hospital because of these inadequacies.

After two months, the nurse quit her job and moved out of state. Subsequently, the hospital asked her to repay the $10,000 bonus. She asked me if her employer’s request is “legal”.

This question highlights the significance of contract law in nursing. Most often, nurses are very aware of professional negligence liability in nursing but are not well versed in other areas of law that affect their practice.

What’s contract law all about?

Contract law does not involve torts, such as professional negligence, but involves an agreement of the parties — the nurse and employer — in which one person agrees to give, to permit, or not to permit something expressed or implied by the agreement.

In this case, the employer agreed to pay the nurse $10,000 when the employment contract was signed for the specified weekend shift and the nurse agreed to those terms.

Although the nurse did not mention the contract’s other provisions, one thing is clear: the employer changed two of the provisions of the contract — the days worked and on which shift that work was to occur.

Contract law states when either party does not live up to provisions in the contract, a legal remedy is possible — a breach of contract action. A breach of contract is defined as not performing any term of a contract without a legitimate legal excuse.

It is unclear if the employer’s change of shift and days worked was with or without a legitimate legal excuse. Did the contract allow the employer to change the provision that governed days and shift worked and, if so, under what circumstances? Did it allow for the employer to change other provisions?

Additionally, was the weekend night shift a tentative arrangement or did the employer orally state it would be a permanent arrangement to the nurse, even if the contract did not state it was a permanent arrangement?

The email also did not mention the contract’s provisions concerning the nurse’s rights and whether there was an ability to challenge changes by the employer. For example, did the contract allow the nurse to challenge a change of shift and days worked? Did it contain a provision to complain to the employer if established working conditions did not meet nursing standards of practice?

Moreover, was the $10,000 sign-on bonus linked to a specific period of time the nurse had to work for the employer? Or was repayment to be waived by the employer under any circumstances?

Keep it civil

A breach of …read more

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