Lori Martinek was fired from Regional Health Services of Howard County in Iowa last year after being assaulted by a combative patient. She was denied unemployment benefits for months because her former employer challenged her claim, but a state court recently ruled in her favor.
Records show Martinek worked at the facility from January 2018 to September of last year when the incident occurred. The hospital terminated her for violating its policies by failing to restrain the patient.
The man in question arrived at the hospital wielding a hammer just before 4 AM local time. He was bleeding from a laceration to his head and wandering from room to room screaming at the staff. The receptionist called the police by pushing the panic button but quickly discovered it wasn’t working.
Five police officers eventually arrived on the scene to subdue the patient. It was then decided that Martinek would administer a chemical restraint. The patient was taken to an exam room where he was handcuffed to the bed.
Martinek told the officers that handcuffing the patient to the bed was unsafe, so they put him in a four-point restraint instead. But the patient kicked the nurse in the stomach while she was attempting to insert a catheter. The man was then discharged from the hospital and put in the county jail.
When Martinek came in for work the next day, the hospital informed her of her termination. She then applied for unemployment benefits, but the hospital refused to grant the request.
The nurse appealed and the case was recently argued before Administrative Law Judge Jason Dunn who reviewed security footage of the incident in question.
In his decision, Dunn sided with the nurse because the hospital didn’t have any first-hand witnesses to support its claim that Martinek acted irresponsibly.
“The restraint and professionalism of (Martinek) and law enforcement during this harrowing episode was exemplary,” Dunn stated, adding that Martinek’s “demeanor was calm and professional, and she provided care to (the patient) without any note of anger or irritation.” <sic>
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, employers can contest a former employee’s unemployment claim if they believe the individual doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements. “Workers can’t collect unemployment if they’ve been fired with proper cause, such as misconduct or violation of company policy,” the agency writes. But workers fired for tardiness and other minor infractions usually still have a right to claim these benefits.
Contesting UI claims can be expensive and time consuming for many companies. Employers are notified via the post office when one of their former workers files a claim. The notice includes information about why the employee left the job and whether they have been offered work. The company must also provide evidence when contesting the claim to show proof that the employee was fired with cause.