Stand By Your Employees When Assaults Occur

John Commins, June 28, 2010

I've been writing lately about violence in the hospital, and how hospitals should adopt a proactive, preventative zero tolerance towards assaults against employees. We've seen the data. employees are four times more likely to be assaulted on the job than are employees in most other sectors of the economy.

I've gotten some good feedback on the topic, but one email left me rankled. A hospital worker-who shall remain anonymous—told me that he had been assaulted on the job, but received little help prosecuting the case either from the police or from the management at the hospital where the assault occurred. The injured employee had to use his free time to go to court to file charges on his own.

This is troubling.

Hospitals must support assaulted employees. One simple, powerful way to do that is to provide paid time off so that the employee can prosecute the case. Prosecuting criminal cases can mean several hours of sitting on hard wooden benches at your local criminal court, only to be told late in the day to return tomorrow, or next week.

Your employee has already been victimized. Don't pile on. Give that employee the time he needs to be in court to see justice done, and pay his salary for the time he's away. If possible, have a representative from the hospital at the injured employee's side. Even better, involve your hospital's legal counsel to help the injured employee navigate through the criminal justice system. This sends a powerful message to employees that you care about them, and that you take their safety seriously

If an employee tells you he or she has been assaulted, investigate the case, and vigorously pursue prosecution when appropriate. It doesn't matter if it's a verbal threat, spitting, or a more physical assault. The message must be sent that violence against healthcare professionals will not be tolerated. If you do not do this, then you are sending the message that assault is "part of the job." You owe it not just to your employees but to all healthcare employees who put their safety on the line to treat potentially violent patients.

In some instances police are reluctant to prosecute. Maybe they have good reasons, or maybe they don't. You owe it to your employees to monitor the disposition of the case. You represent a hospital, one of the largest and most influential employers in your town. Use your status to ensure that your employee's complaint gets fair consideration.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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