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New Study Shows Public Healthcare Employees Subjected to High Number of Pandemic-Related Workplace Bullying and Harassment Cases

New Study Shows Public Healthcare Employees Subjected to High Number of Pandemic-Related Workplace Bullying and Harassment Cases

According to a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health (“AJPH”), workplace bullying and harassment of public health officials and employees throughout the pandemic has been a major issue. The study, which was published on March 17, 2022, and used “media content” and a “national survey of public health departments,” found 1,499 reports of harassment between March 2020 and June 2021. Given the high number of incidents, the study concluded “interventions to reduce undermining, ostracizing, and intimidating acts against health officials are needed for a sustainable public health system.

The AJPH findings clearly indicate public hostility toward the pandemic, which is relevant as many businesses seek to bring employees back to the office. Leaders should be aware of incidents of hostility toward public health employees and the “hyper politicization” of the pandemic as red flags for incidents of harassment in the workforce at large as employees begin returning to physical office spaces in greater numbers.

The AJPH study found public health officials experienced hostility and harassment related to the pandemic were experiencing “greater levels of nonphysical violence perpetrated by patients [that can be} associated with reduced job satisfaction and burnout.” The study also found a high number of public health officials retiring early at the beginning stages of the pandemic and a correlation between those early retirements and pandemic-related incidents of hostility.  In the survey portion of the study, a stunning 43% of public health leaders responded they had been targeted with threats of intimidation, physical violence, and stalking (among other forms of harassment).

The issues highlighted by the AJPH study are valuable to the greater public at large. Given the widely-acknowledged fact that theories about the pandemic in general, as well as vaccination status and other issues have become a fulcrum of political discussion and anger, it is important that your organization be aware of the hostility toward those on the front lines of setting policy and rulemaking during the pandemic. The results of the study can be extrapolated to organizations throughout the country, and highlight potential issues for harassment as we begin to move toward a hybrid model or bring employees back into the office in the coming weeks and months.

While public health employees bore the brunt of hostility in the months covered by the study, it is easy to see how opinionated employees who disagree with the majority opinion within your organization could become targets of harassment and hostility once back in a group setting. This is particularly the case where employees may disagree with certain policies your office may put in place in the name of safety, such as vaccine mandates or mask-wearing policies.

It is critical that you communicate your intolerance for harassment of any kind, and specifically for pandemic-related hostility. Many employees may feel they have the right to speak out against those who disagree with their views on the subject, but as the results of the AJPH study show, allowing such acts of intolerance to occur will have a negative effect on an already shaky American workforce. Therefore, it is critical to listen to employee concerns in this area and empower your workforce to speak up in the event they are subjected to pandemic-related hostility.

Syntrio has developed a powerful platform aimed at empowering employees to speak up about concerns of harassment or other workplace issues, and also empowering managers to listen up and take action when a concern is raised. We invite you to contact a member of our team to discuss how we can partner with your organization to develop an education and communication plan that will assist you as you determine what model of work environment you will choose as we begin to emerge from the pandemic era.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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