Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Violence against staff during pandemic

Covid-19 and laws for workplace violence in healthcare

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 15 November 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2776
  1. Mahesh Devnani, associate professor
  1. Department of Hospital Administration, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India
  1. devnaniji{at}

Workplace violence in the healthcare sector is increasingly being acknowledged worldwide as a serious occupational health hazard requiring urgent preventive measures.1 Workplace violence is defined as situations in which staff are ill treated, intimidated, or attacked in conditions linked to their workplace (including commuting to and from the workplace), involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, wellbeing, or health. The World Health Organization reports that between 8% and 38% of health workers experience physical violence at some point in their careers.2 Healthcare workers hesitate to report violence episodes; employees report only 50% cases of verbal abuse and less than 40% cases of physical assault.3

Timely reporting and documentation of workplace violence can help to strategise prevention and intervention reforms, including training health workers and strengthening security, but there are very few laws or hospital policies to tackle this serious issue. With the increase in cases of workplace violence in healthcare in the covid-19 pandemic, protecting healthcare workers has gained traction among law makers in the United States and India.

In April 2020, the government of India introduced the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 (which became an Act in September 2020) making offences against healthcare personnel cognisable and non-bailable.4 In the US, Congressman Joe Courtney introduced a bill to the House of Representatives in February that instructed the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create a federal standard requiring healthcare employers to implement workplace violence prevention plans.5 The bill passed through the House in a bipartisan vote in April and is currently referred to the Senate’s committee on health, education, labour, and pensions. More such stringent legal and statutory measures are needed worldwide to safeguard health workers from workplace violence.


  • Competing interests: None declared.

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