Fire at will

Compassion seems an unlikely topic for an editorial. On the other hand, after last week’s cover story about the firing of Laura Denton from St. Mary’s Hospital, maybe not.

Laura Denton, it should be noted, ostensibly was fired from St. Mary’s for forgetting her name badge and having food in places where food is not allowed. However, she was also recovering from a double mastectomy and other cancer treatments. She’d been working at the hospital for 18 years with barely a smudge on her permanent record.

And even on the face of it, St. Mary’s did nothing illegal. In the decision by the state’s Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation board of review which overturned a previous finding that St. Mary’s had fired her for misconduct connected with her work, the point was made: “In this case, while the employer may have had the right to discharge claimant, the Board finds claimant’s actions did not contain the necessary element of wrongfulness, to support a finding of misconduct connected with the work.”

In other words, it’s totally legal under Nevada law and Denton has no redress (unless she can make a civil rights claim under federal law—basically discrimination based on age, disability, ethnic/national origin, color, religion or sex).

We’ve all had tough times in our lives: divorce, a physical move, a back injury, an emotional difficulty, a death, an illness, a parent’s or child’s illness or even the birth of a child—the list is almost too long to recite. Most of us expect a certain amount of compassion from our employer, spouse, business partners—it seems just about everyone understands that sometimes life gets in the way of being a perfect automaton employee (or boss for that matter).

And so, we suck it up. We figure out ways to work around each other’s obstacles for the time it takes our friend/enemy/co-worker/stranger to deal with those issues. It’s as simple as this: We, who hold the human emotion of compassion in our hearts, simply don’t kick someone when she or he is down. People are not tools to be used roughly then discarded when the edge gets blunt or the gears temporarily don’t align.

And yet, it’s legal in Nevada to fire anyone for damned near any reason. In fact, you don’t have to give a reason, and human resource managers will tell a manager not to give a reason because it may give the tossed-away implement a legal wedge in court. Nevada’s called a “fire at will” state.

This is designed to be business friendly, a fake balance to the fact that employees can leave at any time. But take a deeper look: That person has cancer. He or she now has a pre-existing condition, so he or she will not be insured. No job. No money. That person is now indigent. Goes to the hospital because everyone has the right to try to survive. The hospital must care for them, because that’s how the “non-profit” hospitals are set up, since at some point in this country, we had a little compassion for the poor.

So, who pays the bill? Us. Through higher insurance and medical bills and taxes.

In this country, some diseases simply must be redefined as “disabilities,” because corporations, which have the rights of a person but none of the soul, will never be forced to treat people with compassion.