In the wake of a recent uptick in workplace violence based lawsuits against home care and assisted living providers, lawmakers introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 16th that would require health care and social services providers to write and implement workplace violence prevention plans. If signed into law, H.R. 7141—the Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care and Social Services Act—would compel OSHA to create and enforce workplace safety standards pertaining to workplace violence.

As we previously reported, the Fifth Circuit recently held that an assisted living facility certified nursing assistant could proceed to trial with her hostile work environment claim stemming from alleged harassment and groping by an elderly patient. These developments serve as reminders that healthcare employers can seize the opportunity to develop best practices for addressing workplace violence in all forms.

Workplace violence is an often-misunderstood term of art. “Violence” often connotes physical acts, and many neglect to think of verbal acts or other behaviors that actually fall within the realm of workplace violence.

In the homecare realm, the patient’s home is a unique environment in which respect for the patient must be paramount. This intimate relationship can also be ripe for misunderstandings. Cultural differences or the patient’s medical conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, can influence what would normally be a benign interaction. Your organization’s employees at every level can learn to navigate these challenges tactfully to avoid potentially negative outcomes. In reality, the accused party could be the patient, the patient’s family member or friend, the caregiver, or any third party who enters the patient’s residence.

The following is a list of tips for addressing an accusation of workplace violence, regardless of the accused or accuser’s role in, or outside of, your organization:

  • Acknowledge that the accuser has raised a concern. Assure the accuser that the company takes all complaints seriously and will investigate the complaint.
  • Inform the accused of the nature of the complaint. Ask for their version of events. Keep an open mind while conducting the investigation.
  • Do not characterize the complaint as founded or unfounded until a full investigation has been completed.
  • If the charges of verbal workplace violence are serious (abusive language or threats of physical harm), and/or the accuser feels afraid for their safety, consider placing the accused on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
  • Do not retaliate against any accuser or any other individual who participates in good faith in the investigation. Disciplinary or other adverse employment action against an employee who accuses another party of workplace violence or harassment opens the employer up to potential liability if the employee files a complaint with a state, federal or local agency, or a lawsuit in state or federal court.
  • Maintain an Anti-Workplace Violence Policy in your employee handbook. Review this policy at least yearly to ensure compliance with all applicable local, state and federal laws.

To learn more about the firm’s healthcare industry team and specifics about how we can help you, please contact your Jackson Lewis attorney.