New law protects hospital employees from violence, harassment on the job

 

STATE HOUSE – A new law passed the by General Assembly and sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian will help protect hospital staff from violence and harassment at work.

The legislation (2021-S 0055A, 2021-H 6018A), which was passed by the Assembly July 1 and was recently signed into law by the governor, establishes procedures for hospital employees to file complaints with the hospital or the Department of Health for any assaultive behavior or other violation of law occurring on hospital grounds, and requires hospitals to develop plans to protect and respond to violence and employee safety issues and institute safety training for employees.

“The front-line workers at hospitals — particularly during the pandemic — put themselves at great risk every day at work for the sake of public health and safety. Unfortunately, violence and harassment can be among those dangers, particularly for those who work in psychiatric settings. Protecting hospital workers to the greatest possible extent, and ensuring that all incidents of violence or harassment are properly reported and responded to, is critical. We must have systems in place so hospitals can prevent incidents, and learn from those that do happen so they can adapt their policies to guard against similar issues in the future,” said President Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). “Nurses and other front-line hospital staff deserve no less. They should not have to accept violence or harassment as a routine element of their job.”

Said House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence), “Our brave and hardworking hospital employees deserve as much protection as we can provide. While they may selflessly accept that their jobs have inherent risks, there still needs to strong policies that minimize those risks, and structures in place to protect them and respond swiftly and fairly to situations where they have been hurt, threatened or put in danger. Every hospital employee has a human right to safety, security and protection at work.”

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 15, 2022, will require that every hospital in Rhode Island create a workplace safety committee that shall conduct periodic security and safety assessments to identify existing or potential hazards for assaults committed against employees. It directs hospitals to develop and implement an assault prevention and protection program for employees, and provide assault prevention and protection training on a regular basis for employees.

It also ensures that any hospital employee may report any violation of law or safety or health violation to either their hospital or the Department of Health, may maintain anonymity if they want, and shall be protected from retaliation. The bill lays out the procedures for how such complaints should be investigated and addressed.

During testimony for the bill the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP), which represents nurses, technologists, therapists, pharmacists, mental health workers and support staff, reported that there has been a dramatic increase of instances in which frontline health workers are on the receiving end of violent and often traumatic instances of physical and mental abuse from patients, their families and visitors, and that more often than not, it goes unreported and undocumented.

A UNAP survey of its members working in hospitals found that 42% said their unit had experienced a violent or near miss violent episode requiring intervention by the local police; 67.8% said they had personally experienced workplace violence on the job; and 63.7% said they have at times felt unsafe working in their unit.

 

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