1. List the reasons given for not reporting illegal, unethical or unsafe conduct.  Which reasons are listed most frequently? 2. What is your employer’s and/or board of nursing’s position on reporting illegal, unethical or unsafe conduct?   3. What influences your decision regarding reporting illegal, unethical or unsafe conduct?  4. What advice would you give to a new nurse seeking this information?  5. Cite the information source you referred to for this information (may include board of nursing website, employer policy or other resource)

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  1. Reasons given for not reporting illegal, unethical, or unsafe conduct include fear of retaliation, lack of trust in the reporting system, fear of jeopardizing personal or professional relationships, belief that reporting would not lead to any action or change, fear of litigation or legal action, lack of knowledge or awareness of what should be reported, and fear of being seen as a “snitch” or troublemaker. The most common reason employees don’t report is fear of retaliation. Many are afraid they will lose their jobs, be demoted or become troublemakers if the speak out about illegal, unethical or unsafe behavior.
  2. According to American Nurses Association, nurses have a professional responsibility to report unsafe, illegal or unethical conduct that they observe. Nursing employers generally have zero tolerance for unsafe, illegal or unethical conduct. Employees are provided with guidelines and policies to assist them in reporting such behavior. Reported misconduct can be grounds for termination, disciplinary action and possible legal penalties.
  3. Several factors may influence a nurse’s decision regarding reporting illegal, unethical, or unsafe conduct, including fear of retaliation, personal values and beliefs, potential consequences of reporting, trust in the reporting system, and level of knowledge or awareness about what should be reported. Nursing staff may consider how reporting could affect their professional or personal relationships as well as its potential effect on patient safety or care.
  4. For new nurses seeking information about reporting illegal, unethical, or unsafe conduct, it is important to consult the policies and procedures of their employer and the guidelines provided by their state’s board of nursing. For a better understanding of the professional obligations and reporting options they have, new nurses should consult their mentors, nursing colleagues or other professional organizations such as the ANA.
  5. Nurses looking for information on reporting unsafe, illegal or unethical conduct can use the ANA and state boards of nursing websites. Many employers have guidelines and procedures that can help their employees to report unsafe or illegal conduct. They are available in handbooks for employees, human resources, and other publications. Nurses should be informed of these resources, and seek support and guidance from colleagues when needed.


American Nurses Association. (2015). Interpretive statements and code of ethics for nurses. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association.

Buchanan, J. A., & Carson, A. M. (2018). Reporting unethical, illegal, or unsafe conduct: A study of registered nurses’ decisions. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 40(2), 147-166. doi: 10.1177/0193945917717931.

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