Can I get fired over one human error?

I work in a hospital in the pharmacy for 14 years. I recently was suspended for a error. In the 14 years I never had any problems or errors. I was recently suspended without pay for 3 days without pay pending further investigation. My suspension is up today and I was advised to contact my supervisor to find out the results of the investigation. I called him several times but he never returned my calls. I am not sure if I am getting fired or not because no one is advising me of anything. I have knowledge of other employees making similar mistakes who were not written up or suspended or fired and those mistakes actually made it to the patients. I believe firing me over one human mistake is unjustifiable and not fair. Do I have a case to sue my employer for wrongful dismissal? I have further knowledge that others have been retrained in the IV room after similar errors. I strongly believe that I was targeted due to my age/race. Do I have a case or not?

Asked on February 22, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Forget about "fair"--"fair" is not legally relevant, and an employee may be fired for a single instance of human error, unless he or she has an employment contract which by its terms prevents firing in this way or in this circumstance.
It is possible that if other employees of different races and who are younger than you were treated differently (and you are at least 40 years old, which is the threshold for age-related protection) than you, that this may be illegal race- or age-based discrimination. Of course, it also matters how your error stacks up to their error. Now, I am not a pharmacist, nurse, doctor, etc., so if the following example factually does not make sense, I apologize, but to illustrate: there is a difference between, say, giving someone a medicine which was not prescribed but which has the worst possible effect for them of making them urinate more (e.g. a diuretic adminstered to the average person), versus giving someone in error a medicine which could kill them or cause irreversible damage; both instances may be the result of human error, but given the much greater magnitude of one than the other, the employer could legally treat the two cases differently.
However, if you feel that your error and the other errors are comparable and you are being treated differently/worse due to age or race, then speak with the federal EEOC or your state's equal/civil rights agency.


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