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INSIGHT

Battle for a safe workplace continues to evolve

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

In case anyone wondered, the battle to counter workplace harassment and violence is definitely intensifying.

In 2005, a physician killed a nurse who he worked with at a hospital. It was later learned that the murder followed a long history of harassment by the doctor. Worse, the hospital management had known of these incidents. But at that time, almost no jurisdiction in North America had laws to specifically address workplace harassment or violence.

Today, things have changed. What’s also important is that they are still changing and will likely do so for some time. Good managers must be aware of this and be prepared for change.

Until relatively recent times, employers have discounted the significance of workplace harassment. But awareness, opinions, and publicity changed so that today, few question the legitimacy of harassment and violence as workplace issues. There are still those who ignore or dismiss it, but they are increasingly a shrinking minority.

Regulations and court rulings have generally brought us to the position where organizations, including medical offices, must follow certain procedures or face being driven out of business. That still surprises some, but today’s fines, penalties, and lawsuits can easily send an organization, even a large organization, into bankruptcy.

Generally, the requirements are pretty straightforward, even if the details can be complex: Employers must take reasonable precautions to protect workers—to create a safe environment free from harassment and threat. They must create and maintain written policy spelling out these “prohibitions” and they must act quickly if violations are reported.

There’s still room for improvement, and that’s why you’ll continue to see legal and regulatory change, change that you’ll need to stay abreast of and deal with.

Certainly, there are also cases where “victims” have exploited these laws, regulations, and policies. I’ve written previously about a small but dangerous group of people who will definitely use any opportunity to their advantage when possible. There are also instances where good people disagree over an event or action and its interpretation.

It’s also worth stressing that in many cases there is not only legitimate harassment, but a long history of it. In the Canadian case above, the horrific act of murder followed a long series of actions that progressively escalated. That’s not unusual, and that’s why many now agree there is no such thing as “just a little harassment.” And even with all of today’s rules and regulations, there are still those who commit unbelievable acts, including long-term harassment, threats, and violence.

That brings us back to the legislative and regulatory environment managers now find themselves in. Several things stand out, but the bottom line is that organizations are increasingly held to strict accountability and very few violations will go unreported for long. Even if an employee doesn’t report harassment, someone else may. They may even provide cell phone video as proof. This is the world we now work in.

That’s why it’s important for managers to stay current on the evolving world of workplace regulations on this topic. I won’t go into every option, but a simple Google “alert” can be a good start. Media like Medical Office Manager are also important. But most of all, make sure you and your employer recognize this as a priority. Not doing so can cost them their business and you your job.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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