Workplace violence bill gets new life

Nurses and health professionals are one step closer to federal protection from workplace violence with the passage of the Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195) in the U.S. House of Representatives April 16.

woman in scrubs holding up both of her hands in front of her as if to defend herself
Getty Images/Credit:AaronAmat

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced the measure to help workers like Carol Grant who has been a nurse for 17 years. She is no stranger to dealing with patients or family members who get violent. Workplace violence has gotten worse, especially in the last three or four years, she says: “It is definitely happening more and more in the workplace. You try and make excuses, but it just gets really out of hand sometimes.” 

An incident she endured last summer is a prime example. Grant was tending to a patient, and she had a gut feeling the patient was hiding something; she never imagined it would be a gun. The patient pulled the weapon on Grant, who managed to talk her way out of the situation, but the incident left some psychological scars.

“They all called me ‘hero’ when it happened,” says Grant; but for months, she felt like she was in a trance and suffered post-traumatic stress. When the hospital eliminated her position because she missed work due to PTSD, she was shocked. “I just saved God knows what from happening at the hospital,” says Grant, who felt abandoned and isolated by the administration after the incident. Her union is standing with her.

Courtney’s bill would curb the rising rates of workplace violence facing healthcare and social service employees by requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop enforceable safety standards for these workers.

“Healthcare and social workers have been waiting for years, long before COVID, to have their safety taken seriously while they’re working hard to ensure everyone else’s,” says Rep. Courtney. “These workers are facing a disturbing level of violence; it’s happening in every congressional district across the country, and they shouldn’t have to fear for their own lives while they’re at work trying to save ours.”

The House voted to pass H.R. 1195 on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 254-166—an even greater bipartisan majority than when similar legislation introduced by Courtney passed the House in 2019. The vote is a victory for AFT’s nurses and health professionals who championed this legislation from the beginning.

“Every single worker in this country should have the right to a safe workplace, no matter what job they do. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the fact that this isn’t a reality for far too many,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten after the bill’s passage. “For our healthcare professionals—who experience 73 percent of reported workplace violence injuries—this means more than kind words and nightly applause; these workers need federal protections to keep them safe from the epidemic of workplace violence and other serious hazards they face while caring for patients.”

Although nurses and health professionals on the frontlines agree with the need for this legislation, the American Hospital Association voiced its opposition, asserting that many hospitals already have programs in place to prevent workplace violence. However, the workplace violence rate continues to increase every year, showing that voluntary efforts are not enough.

Grant believes the legislation would have helped her by forcing hospitals to improve security and follow policies that would prevent violence.

“Passage of our bill in the House today is an important step forward in this effort to curb workplace violence, but it can’t be the last,” said Courtney. “The Senate of the 116th Congress failed to take our bipartisan bill up for a vote. The new Senate majority should not make the same mistake. They should follow our lead and move our bipartisan bill on to President Biden’s desk for signature.”

Check out AFT’s workplace prevention toolkit.

[Adrienne Coles]