Abandoning clients

At the end of an eight-hour shift, my manager told me I had to stay and work the evening shift because the floor was short-staffed. She said that, according to the College’s standards, I would be abandoning my clients and could be charged with professional misconduct if I refused. This happens frequently in my workplace, and nurses feel threatened that they will be reported to the College if they don’t stay. Am I abandoning my clients if I leave?

The issue of abandonment is described in the professional misconduct regulations of the Nursing Act, 1991.

It is considered professional misconduct to discontinue professional services that are needed unless:

  • the client requests the discontinuation
  • alternative or replacement services are arranged, or
  • the client is given reasonable opportunity to arrange alternative or replacement services (the term “client” can be broadened to include the nurse’s employer, as the employer acts as an agent for the client by providing the client with nursing services).

The misconduct regulation outlines the nurse’s professional responsibility to not abandon or neglect her or his clients. During the course of your assigned shift, you have a responsibility not to leave the ward or the facility without ensuring your clients are cared for.

However, refusing to work an extra shift or overtime is not the type of situation that was intended by the inclusion of “discontinuation of services” as a category of professional misconduct. As far as your professional responsibility is concerned, it is your personal decision whether to accept or decline extra work hours.

Nurses are often asked to work overtime or subsequent shifts. This is a labour relations issue, therefore the College cannot comment on their right as employees to refuse these requests.

It is necessary, however, that you notify your employer that you are unable to accept the additional shift, so that the employer has the opportunity to arrange for additional staffing. A different situation occurs if you are the only person caring for a client(s) and your replacement does not show up. It is a serious threat to client safety if you leave at the end of your shift and there is no one to provide care. Notify your manager of the situation and clearly state how long you are able to stay. Document the action you took to facilitate your manager’s efforts to find a replacement.

Page last reviewed July 25, 2012