New York Court of Appeals Limits Scope of Health Care Whistleblower Law

Last month, New York’s high court in Reddington v. Staten Island University Hospital limited the scope of New York’s Health Care Whistleblower law in response to a question concerning its scope certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The law protects employees who “perform health care services” from retaliation should they complain, or blow the whistle, on improper patient care. The New York Court of Appeals held that the phrase “perform health care services” means directly providing health care. Consequently, hospital office workers generally might not be covered while a nurse or physician would be protected by the statute.
The Court of Appeals’ decision substantially limits the class of employees, who are protected from retaliation, despite that an argument could be made that it should apply to any employee who observes improper conduct by a health care provider. Nevertheless, New York’s high court felt that a narrow interpretation more likely reflected legislative intent.
Unfortunately, the decision is contrary to the statute’s purpose: making sure that employees come forward with information relating to patient care without fear of retribution.
This decision highlights the importance for employees to ensure that they are legally protected from retaliation before making any complaint. Indeed, the whistleblower laws do not cover everyone or all kinds of conduct.

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