Excerpted from an Akerman LLP Blog by Emily Ayvazian and Danielle Gordet

Hospitals, urgent care clinics, doctors’ offices — these are the places we go when we are sick and want to get better. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are the people who treat us, help us recover, and even save our lives in medical emergencies.

Yet according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than workers in all other industries, and this statistic has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this rising concern, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified violence in healthcare settings as a significant occupational risk.

What Does the Law Require?

Federal Level

While there is currently no federal law establishing a duty to protect workers from workplace violence, employers do have a duty to provide a safe working environment under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is enforced by OSHA. In addition, OSHA has stated that it is in the early stages of developing a potential standard, “Prevention of Workplace Violence in Healthcare and Social Assistance.” In the meantime, OSHA has provided guidance on preventing workplace violence for healthcare and social service workers.

In its guidance, OSHA notes an effective workplace violence prevention program should include several key components, such as: (1) management commitment and worker participation, (2) worksite analysis, (3) hazard prevention and control, (4) safety and health training, and (5) recordkeeping and program evaluation.

State Level

Although there is currently no federal mandate, several states, most recently California and Texas, have begun implementing laws aimed at curbing workplace violence against healthcare workers.

California Senate Bill 553 (SB 553), which was signed into law in September 2023 and will become effective July 1, 2024, requires (1) that nearly all California healthcare employers create and implement workplace violence prevention plans with specific requirements that must be reviewed at least once a year and (2) that incidents of workplace violence be logged and investigated. Perhaps most notably, SB 553 requires that workers be involved in the creation of their employers’ workplace violence prevention plans, including identifying and correcting workplace violence hazards.

Texas Senate Bill 240 (SB 240), which was enacted in September 2023, requires that healthcare facilities adopt written workplace violence prevention policies and plans by September 1, 2024. Similar to the California law, SB 240 requires each covered facility to establish a workplace violence committee to develop the workplace violence prevention plan. The committee must include at least one registered nurse who provides direct care to patients of the facility and at least one facility worker who provides security services for the facility, if possible and practicable.

What Can Healthcare Facilities Do?

All healthcare facilities should ensure they have a comprehensive workplace violence policy in place, and this begins with a zero-tolerance policy. An effective workplace violence policy should:

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