Members of the House of Representatives recently introduced legislation that would require the Department of Labor (“DOL”) to promulgate a standard addressing workplace violence in the healthcare and social service industries. Under the bill, the standard would need to include requirements for employers in the healthcare and social service industries to develop comprehensive plans protecting workers from violence, investigate workplace violence incidents, provide training to employees, and prohibit acts of retaliation against an employee who reports violence or threats. But, despite having 110 co-sponsors, the bill has yet to be scheduled for a vote.

In spite of Congress not voting on its proposed legislation, the House Appropriations Committee did not miss an opportunity to admonish OSHA for not moving quickly to develop a standard addressing workplace violence in the healthcare industry. In a Committee Report, it stated that OSHA needs to make development of that standard a “top priority” and expressed its concern by noting

“[t]he Committee is deeply concerned that OSHA is failing to move forward to develop and issue needed standards on major safety and health problems. One issue of particular concern is workplace violence, a serious and growing problem that has reached epidemic levels.”

In December 2016, issued a Federal Register notice seeking information from the regulated community about issues that might be considered in developing a standard, including the scope of any standard and the types of administrative or engineering controls that might be required. To date, there has been little movement in the rulemaking process since OSHA has yet to complete a required small business review and there is no estimated timeline for issuing a proposed or final rule.

Only time will tell if the House will be able to accelerate OSHA’s rulemaking. But employers should be aware that several states, including California, already have standards in place regulating workplace violence for the healthcare industry.. And, while there is no federal standard in place, OSHA may still issue citations under the general duty clause for healthcare and social employers who do not protect their employees from workplace violence. In a recent case, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld such a citation. Jackson Lewis recommends that employers in the healthcare industry review their current policies to ensure they are addressing workplace violence.