Negligence, Abuse, Theft: Learn How To Avoid Legal Issues As A CNA

Portrait of a young smiling nurse

It takes patience and compassion to treat frail seniors. The residents at long term care facilities live there because they need constant care. They cannot perform basic activities that others take for granted. Many of them suffer from some type of dementia and cannot take responsibility for their actions. As a caregiver, you have the difficult yet honorable task of assisting residents with day-to-day activities while respecting their rights as a whole person.

Your CNA training will prepare you in many ways. You’ll learn how to provide compassionate care within the confines of the law. Stepping outside of those guidelines could lead to charges for injury and damages, fines and imprisonment and also the loss of your license to work as a Certified Nurse Aide.

To circumvent these charges, you should:

  • Understand and operate within your state’s guidelines
  • Do only those tasks for which you’re trained
  • Execute tasks exactly as you learned
  • Get your required in-service training
  • Brush up on your skills
  • Understand your assignments and know what the administration expects of you
  • Follow the facility’s policies and procedures
  • Respect your patients’ rights and their personal property

CNAs Beware: It Could Happen To You

No CNA intentionally plans to hurt or abuse a resident. But charges of abuse and neglect happen all too often, and it could happen to you if you’re not prepared mentally for the reality of nurse assisting. Here’s a common scenario: After a few weeks training, you’re charged with direct care for 10 to 15 frail, elderly and completely helpless residents in a facility where there’s not enough staff on board. Calls lights are going off in several rooms, but one resident in particular is screaming his lungs out demanding help to go to the bathroom. Other CNAs are too busy to help, and the single nurse on duty is busy attending to another resident. Should you take the chance to assist the resident when you know that his care plan requires two persons to assist?

Truth is, this is not an uncommon scenario, and many CNAs in these situations take the risk and transfer residents without aid. If the patient breaks a hip or sustains some other injury during the transfer, would you be held accountable? As a CNA, you’ll have to make difficult choices every day. When it gets hectic, you need to remember the guidelines and follow them to protect yourself and your career. Following are some legal issues you can face along with examples and how you can avoid them.


Overworked and stretched CNAs often face situations where they cannot provide a reasonable the degree of care – at least not at the exact moment the patient wants. You’ll have to make judgment calls to prioritize your tasks daily because if a patient sustains an injury while you’re busy doing something else, you might face charges of neglect.

Neglect can also result when you’re so busy attending to patients that you forget vital parts of the procedure and cause injury to your patient. Some examples are:

  • Putting the patient in the bath water without checking the temp, which results in burns.
  • Taking a chance to transfer the patient on your own, causing the patient to fall and break bones.
  • Giving a patient with allergies a meal meant for another patient.
  • Failing to give patients water or snacks.
  • Failing to provide basic personal care, such as not brushing the patient’s mouth or giving a bath.

Whether your actions are intentional or unintentional, neglect is against the law. Therefore, you should always think about your patients and provide the care, service and treatment they need to avoid injury or mental anguish. A registered nurse will review and determine all instances of neglect. If you, as a CNA, witness signs of neglect, it is your duty to report it.


Here’s another potentially damaging issue that is not as straightforward as you might think. You already know that theft is taking anything that doesn’t belong to you. In this instance, you’re guilty of theft even if you take something that’s seemingly small, inexpensive and insignificant. You can lose your job and your license for taking washcloths, soap, articles of clothing, deodorant and other items for your personal use at home. Also, it’s critical to report cases where you see someone take something that isn’t their’s – you may not be charged with theft, but you’ll be guilty of aiding and abetting. The bottom line: Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, EVER.


Abuse, doing harm to a patient, is unlawful. Abuse includes any non-accidental act that leads to injury or death – verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and mental abuse are the more common forms. Don’t hit, punch, slap or handle the patient roughly. Don’t yell, make threats, yell or embarrass the patient in front of others. Be careful and respect your patients’ values; sexual harassment policies are broad and leave room for the other person’s interpretation regardless of your intentions. Whether verbal, sexual, physical or emotional, there are severe penalties for CNAs found guilty of abuse.

Again, it is important that you report cases of abuse as soon as you witness them. You can lose your license if you’re a witness to abusive acts and fail to report them. Whether a member of staff or a patient’s family member commits the abuse, it is your duty to report it right away.


Always keep the patients’ rights at the forefront of your mind. One of the many patient rights is the right to privacy. All medical procedures and personal care must take place behind the privacy of closed curtains. Don’t be in such as hurry that you forget this simple step. It might seem to be a simple thing, but failing to follow this procedure could compromise your career. A patient’s privacy goes beyond what goes on behind close curtains; it also includes keeping the patient’s medical information private, which means no discussions outside of the medical staff.

Leave a Reply