Is texting at work acceptable for nurses?

A nurse reader asked what she should do about a personal text message she sent to her husband’s ex-wife.

The reader did not include what she sent the ex-wife, but whatever the message, her employer charged her with “improper telephone communication” for texting at work.

The reader’s supervisor told her the ex-wife personally came to the hospital to complain about the text and spoke with the supervisor, CNO, CEO and HR department.

The ex-wife also informed hospital administration about their personal family situation, which apparently included an “ugly divorce and custody battle.”

The nurse is concerned about being reported to the state board of nursing by the employer and whether her job is in jeopardy.

Hospital policies governing mobile devices and texting at work

It is not known what policy or policies this nurse’s employer adopted for the use of communication devices at work, but a breach of the policy occurred as evidenced by the improper communication charge.

This particular hospital might only approve the use of smartphones for patient care issues, communicating with other staff or seeking information about a particular diagnosis.

It is also not known if the facility requires the nursing staff only use a smartphone issued by the facility or if a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is required. We also don’t know which of the two was used to text the ex-wife.

Regardless of these issues, the nurse who submitted the question has used her phone in a manner not approved by the employer.

As a result, it is quite possible she will be terminated. The nurse can grieve the termination if she believes it was unfair or not consistent with the employer’s policy governing employee conduct and smartphone use.

That may be an uphill battle. The text message, whatever its contents, was shared with the employer. Its existence cannot be denied.

Whether truthful or not, the ex-wife’s comments to the nurse’s administrators raise additional character concerns.

Professional licensure concerns about texting at work

There are several licensure worries this nurse faces as well. Initially, if she is terminated from her job, the state nurse practice act may require the employer or the nurse herself to report the termination to the board.

If this is required, the nurse will need to be honest and truthful about why the termination occurred. Because the use of a smartphone for personal reasons such as texting at work can cause a risk to patient safety, the board may determine discipline is necessary.

If the employer policy was not adhered to, this will be an additional point the board must evaluate.

The board also might see her behavior as unprofessional conduct likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.

Although you may think an unprofessional conduct allegation would only be based upon your nursing practice, such as breaching nurse-patient confidentiality, signing on a work computer with another person’s code or negligent patient care, that is no longer the case. (You can read more about this topic in my blog, “What can an RN do if compliance issues exist at a workplace?”)

Boards of nursing are expanding the …read more

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