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It’s said that ignorance of the law is no defense—but how do we know we’re breaking a law if we don’t know it exists?
Luckily, we do know the serious laws, particularly those that have to do with practicing nursing. We know about HIPAA, that diverting narcotics is a Bad Thing, and that we can’t strangle a visitor who is getting on our last nerve.
But there may be other laws with which you might not be familiar. So, to further your legal education, we are going to share a few laws from here and around the world—you just may be spared a trip to the police station.
1. You can’t be an obese nurse in Japan.
If you’re considering moving to Japan to try your hand at nursing, you may want to check if foreigners are included in the two-year-old law that bans the Japanese from being fat. In 2008, the Japanese government decreed that its citizens had to slim down to reduce the chances of developing lifestyle-related diseases, such as metabolic syndrome—or metabo, as they call it there.
The rules are pretty strict, and the government did come under fire from medical experts who said the mandated maximum allowable waist size for men was too strict. Those who fail their waist measurement test must lose weight. If they haven’t lost weight within three months, they are given dieting guidance. If they’re still not successful after six months, they receive “re-education.”
2. Mercury thermometers aren’t disposable.
It’s not likely you would find mercury thermometers or sphygmomanometers in most hospitals these days (unless you’re looking at a historical display!), but you could come across them while doing home healthcare or if you’re working in an underprivileged part of the country.
Unfortunately, because these devices are made of glass, they can break easily and must be disposed of safely. If you do find a broken mercury thermometer or blood pressure machine, do not throw these items or any loose mercury in the garbage. It’s illegal in the United States to dispose of mercury in the trash or in recycling. It must be brought to a hazardous disposal unit.
3. Mountain Dew won’t keep you awake in Canada.
If you move to Canada to work and you stop to buy yourself a Mountain Dew to help keep you awake for a night shift, you may notice that it won’t do the trick. You see, in Canada, it’s illegal to put caffeine in a clear soda beverage. Caffeine can be put in colas and root beer, but not in see-through drinks.
4. Overtime work doesn’t always equal overtime pay.
In states like California, it’s the law for overtime work to be paid at overtime pay (time and a half). This is for all employees who work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Of course, this is adapted in the healthcare setting, where nurses often work 12-hour shifts. Obviously the system wouldn’t work if everyone were paid for four hours overtime every time they worked. There are also some groups of employees who are exempt from the overtime law, but nursing isn’t on the list. Who is exempted? Sheepherders. Go figure.
5. You have to wear a uniform to work in Wales.
Nurses who work in Wales, in the United Kingdom, don’t have to worry about what type of uniforms or scrubs to buy, or if cartoon character scrubs would be acceptable—they don’t have a choice as to what to wear and they don’t have to buy their work clothes. The uniforms are provided to them by the government.
In mid-2010, the country’s estimated 36,000 nurses and midwives began wearing standardized colors, according to their level of nursing. In response to complaints from patients and others being unable to tell who was who, a color code was established:
Charge nurses or their replacements wear navy blue.
Clinical nurse specialists wear royal blue.
Staff nurses wear hospital blue.
Staff midwives wear postman blue.
Healthcare support workers wear green.
Nursery nurses wear aqua green.
6. Working in Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean you’ll get Christmas off.
One of the biggest drawbacks in nursing is having to work on the holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you decide to work in Saudi Arabia, an attractive option for many young nurses because of the salary and healthcare facilities, don’t assume you’ll have Christmas off because it’s a Muslim country. While it’s true that you won’t have to compete with everyone else who wants December 25 as a day off, Christmas isn’t recognized in Saudi Arabia and you’ll likely be expected to work just as everyone else does. It’s just another day.
7. Say “please” or we won’t do your tests.
If you’re working over the weekend at Worthing Hospital in West Sussex, England, you could—without reprimand—ignore a doctor’s order for blood tests if he (or she) doesn’t write “please” on the requisition.
In news reports, an unnamed doctor came in to work on a Sunday and found that none of his blood work had been done the day before—because he hadn’t written the magic word in the orders. The hospital defended its decision to require the “please.” A spokesperson said this was implemented in order to ease pressure on other healthcare personnel by making the doctor think twice about writing the order.
8. To get a nursing license in Australia, you must pass an English test.
On the surface, having to pass an English test to receive an Australian nursing license seems to make perfect sense. After all, if you can’t communicate in English, how can you be an effective nurse in Australia? The twist here is you have to take the English test even if you come from England…where you speak English.
9. If you’re single, you aren’t allowed to get pregnant in the United Arab Emirates.
If you’re a single nurse and you fall in love while working in the UAE, be careful. Although some rules in the UAE aren’t quite as strict for noncitizens, it is still forbidden for single foreign women to have children out of wedlock. In Dubai, single women who are pregnant may either marry the father or leave the country; the other option is being arrested for fornication. In the other emirates, single women who are pregnant may be arrested or deported.
10. The language policies of the hospital could hurt you.
Some hospitals in the United States are implementing “English only” rules in certain parts of their facility. Often, these rules are instituted because of complaints from people not being able to understand some nurses who speak other languages among themselves.
This could be just a matter of etiquette in some situations, but the hospitals claim that such rules are also meant for safety. In trauma situations, it’s essential that all staff be able to communicate and understand each other in a common language—English.
In April 2010, three nurses and a secretary were fired from their positions at a Baltimore hospital. They were overheard speaking Filipino. In 2005, it’s reported that five housekeepers were fired from their hospital jobs in Rochester, N.Y., for speaking Spanish. Conclusion: Being bilingual may mean you have to check your hospital’s policy.