Are employees protected by workplace harassment when the harassment is not an employee?
July 6, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Are employees of nursing homes and group homes (nurses, management, counselors) protected under the realm of workplace harassment laws when the harassment is from the family members of the residents?

I have friends and family in this field as well as family members in nursing homes (NY State). I have witnessed prolonged harassment from family members of the residents in nursing homes and group homes. While I feel for the harassed because all they want to do is to do their job well without the fear of harassment, I get frustrated because they feel like they have little or no options when it comes to harassment of this nature.

Sitting there and just taking it seems like a non-viable option in what can be a stressful field. I've seen, heard and have been told about relatives yelling at the staff (sometimes in front of superiors) and lying about employees.

Do people in this field have options when it comes to this type of abuse other than just finding a different job?
posted by jasonspaceman to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
"Harassment" has a particular meaning in employment law. Under federal law regulating private employers, and most states, harassment is prohibited only if it is based on a "protected status" such as race, sex, disability, and so on. Third parties can "harass" an individual employee, depending on the facts.

Where "harassment" is not based on such a prohibited status, usually the options are based more on the specifics of the workplace. Is there a union? Are there helpful people in management or HR? Could the employees figure out non-escalating communication or responses to particular family members, perhaps with management backing? And so on.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:01 AM on July 6, 2010

Interesting question. I do not believe that the workers are guaranteed any kind of pleasurable experience in regards to dealing with these family members---I'm sure any nurse will have a thousand similar stories for you. However, depending on WHAT is being said, management should be willing to remove these offenders from the premises or at least demand of them that they tone it down.

If the employees are actually feeling threatened (even in a misogynistic sort of way), they should take it up w/ supervisors ASAP.
posted by TomMelee at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2010

Yeah, it really depends on what you mean by "harassment." In my job as a nurse, I am protected from being the recipient of illegal behavior in the same way as any other person; no one is allowed to physically assault me or seriously threaten to do so, and anyone that tried would at very least be escorted from the premises if they refused to stop (for the latter) or arrested (for the former).

When talking about non-violent acts, there are still circumstances in which the nurse is protected against harassment by family members. The first one that immediately springs to mind is this: Nurses cannot provide care that is outside their scope of practice, contrary to the health and healing of the patient, or against their employer's policies and procedures. If the family of a patient insists that such things be done and refuses to back down after the nurse explains why it can't happen, the nurse can utilize the chain of command (charge nurse, nursing supervisor, hospital administrator) to intervene. So if Grandma's adult children insist that Grandma needs a a bag of Fritos and and an IV fluid bolus despite the fact that Grandma's got congestive heart failure, or that Grandma should try to walk without a walker even though she's got Parkinson's and will definitely fall down and crack her head if she tries, the nurse obviously cannot provide the things requested by the family no matter how aggressive or persistent they are. If the family continues to insist and escalate, the nurse is absolutely protected by hospital policies and best medical practices, and should not hesitate to get her/his immediate superiors involved. (This is probably the most common kind of dispute between providers and family members, and a little education about Grandma's plan of care and medical issues usually resolves it.)

But are nurses protected from harrassment from family members who are unceasing, even to an annoying degree, in their demands for non-harmful care for their hospitalized family member? Of course not. It's our job. If Grandma's adult children think she needs a fresh pitcher of water every hour or a clean hospital gown three times a day or her bed changed twice a day or some other totally benign but entirely unnecessary thing, well, there's not much we can do about that but smile and do it while trying to remember that the demands come from a place of deep concern for Grandma that we ourselves share, even if we express it differently.
posted by jesourie at 3:26 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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