Minnesota nurse reinstated after being fired for wearing hospital-issued scrubs instead of own

Minneapolis-based Allina Health must reinstate former nurse Cliff Willmeng, RN, but doesn't have to issue back pay, an arbitrator determined April 21. 

Mr. Willmeng was fired May 8, 2020, for wearing hospital-issued scrubs instead of his own. The arbitration ruling stems from a grievance raised by the Minnesota Nurses Association against Allina for firing Mr. Willmeng without just cause. 

Arbitrator Stephen Befort found Allina lacked grounds to fire Mr. Willmeng, who was worried that washing his own scrubs at home may jeopardize the health of himself, his family and patients.

"Willmeng's good faith belief that the potential harm of exposure to COVID-19 necessitated a departure from the dress code policy warrants some remedy short of discharge," Mr. Befort wrote.

Mr. Befort said Mr. Willmeng violated policies of the system's United Hospital April 24, 2020 — two weeks before he was fired — and United warned the nurse before firing him. By having nurses wear their own scrubs early in the pandemic, the hospital didn't fail to maintain a safe work environment, the ruling found.

In an emailed statement to MedPage Today, Allina Health said it "is still in the process of reviewing the Arbitrator's decision in this case. However, we are gratified that he found that Allina Health acted appropriately and affirmed the safety measures implemented to protect our employees. We have no further comments at this time."

The health system has 90 days from the decision to appeal.

After he was fired, Mr. Willmeng filed a lawsuit against Allina for whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination. The lawsuit is set to be tried in October.


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