1. Raso, Rosanne RN, CNAA, MS

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Q Pagers, e-mail, and wireless connections make me feel as though I can never get away from work. Is it irresponsible of me to turn them off when I'm not on duty?

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If your employer is providing you with a long-range pager, cell phone, or wireless e-mail device, then you most likely have to be accessible in particular situations. Nursing supervisory coverage for evenings, nights, and weekends should be able to handle the usual operational issues without having to contact you; it's the unusual or urgent issues that may require assistance from the manager who knows the area best. This doesn't mean you must be constantly available-that'd burn out the best of us. Full-time responsibilities shouldn't mean 24/7/365 working hours. If it does, there are more serious issues to address than e-mail and pagers.


If you know you're leaving a potentially unstable situation, or if there's a serious staff shortage or high patient acuity, you should leave very clear guidelines on what your expectations are for managing the unit and under what circumstances you want to be contacted. Checking in during high stress times is appropriate and demonstrates true leadership and accountability.


During vacation or any time you might be unavailable, a designated contact person should be on-call for urgent issues in your area(s) of responsibility. The easiest way to handle it is for managers to pair off with a "buddy" for cross-coverage, or set up a coverage system within your division as needed. Another way is to assign an on-call person on a rotating basis so only one person has to worry about availability.


I value my time off in order to recharge and have family time, and you should do the same. Institute clear expectations on when you'll be contacted by your staff, boss, and covering supervisor. You aren't being irresponsible if you have systems in place to ensure your area(s) of responsibility are well managed while you're off, there's a way to contact you in urgent situations if needed, and you're reachable when you're expected to be.


Q FMLA laws confuse me. Can you describe them?


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 was passed with the intent that employees be given time off to address medical or family issues without losing their jobs. Basically, those with 1 year of employment who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical/family reasons during any 12-month period. Paid time off (sick, personal, or vacation time) can be used in addition to or as part of the FMLA depending on your organization's policies. The 12 weeks can be taken together or separately, or even a day at a time.


Use of FMLA time can be unscheduled in emergencies or preferably approved and prescheduled, such as the birth of a child, a serious medical condition, or to help an immediate family member who needs care. The law requires 30 days advance notice by the employee, or as soon as possible. Medical certification is most likely needed for all FMLA requests. Additionally, the law doesn't permit the employer from "counting" FMLA leave toward absenteeism.


You must refer to your organization's guidelines and procedures and/or collective bargaining agreements regarding FMLA policy. A leave isn't considered FMLA until the employee receives it in writing from his or her employer. Contact your human resources department for questions and assistance, and advise your staff to do the same. You'll find a good source of information on this law at