The Saturday Night Massacre
The term "Saturday Night Massacre" was used by political commentators during the Watergate era to refer to the dismissal, by President Nixon, of Archibal Cox and the resignations of Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus on October 20, 1973. When the president had failed to obey a subpoena, the president ordered the attorney general and later, his deputy, to fire Cox, who was investigating Watergate. The Saturday Night Massacre marked the beginning of the end for Mr. Nixon.
The term currently is shorthand for any situation where an employer directs a supervisor, normally a professional, to perform an act that the professional feels goes against professional ethics. And recently in North Dakota such a "massacre" occurred when eight of the nine nurses in a skilled nursing facility resigned.
The facility was a smaller nursing facility with only 20 beds, but it had nine nurses on staff. When eight of them resigned en masse it left only one licensed practical nurse on staff. While the facility was able to restaff relatively quickly, according to media reports, the impact on the patients in losing friends and caregivers was likely severe.
While such a mutiny may seem like a very good idea, a way to get the attention of a management team that it out of touch with its nurses, and while it appears here to have been led by the actual director of nursing, there are risks to the nurses who walk out in such an action that go far beyond reemployment.
In 2008 the now famous "Sentosa Nurses" were charged criminally with endangering the welfare of children and disabled residents when they walked out of Sentosa's facility with 24 hours notice. The prosecutor in Suffolk County New York attempted to prosecute them for the effect of their actions on the residents. Fortunately the New York Court of Appeals held that a prosecution for failing to remain employed was essentially a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against involuntary servitude, and it discharged the nurses.
But while a criminal case could not be made against the nurses, certainly a civil case could have been brought by any patient harmed under the theory of patient abandonment. Similarly, the Board of Nursing could easily file actions against these nurses' licenses for abandoning their patients and placing them at a risk of harm.
If a facility is so odious that mass resignations are required, those resignations should either not be planned together (e.g., 10 nurses getting together to quit all at once) or they should be staggered to protect the patients if they are planned together.
One sure way to make it difficult for an employer to hire you in the future is to get your name into the newspaper (and thereafter permanently searchable on Google) for leading or joining a walkout of employees. Such an action would make it very likely that future employers would consider you to be a rabble-rouser and someone who could not be trusted not to organize the staff for contrary purposes.
Yet, by the same token, when a nurse is asked to violate professional norms (i.e., chemically sedating patients for no medical reason), or engage in a violation of professional trust and confidence (falsifying patient records), or industry standards (staffing a shift with insufficient resources to meet patient needs) there may be only one option left to the serious employee. That employee may have to resign. But before she does, she should make sure to document the conditions, and she should file a complaint with her nursing board (or other regulatory agency) to let them know why she was forced to resign.
The license you protect will likely be your own.