Lateral violence is defined as a set of destructive behaviors occurring between colleagues intended to humiliate, offend or cause distress. It has been noted, the Mother of Modern Nursing, Florence Nightingale’s caustic manner towards nurses of lower social class during the Crimean War planted the seeds for lateral violence to take root in present – day nursing culture. Nightingale’s sarcastic nature throughout her 1859 book “Notes in Nursing” set the tone for the prevailing incivility between nurses.
Many healthcare organizations have attempted to abolish this problem of lateral violence with various strategies such as education or organizational leadership. However, based upon the sheer volume of articles published in reference to lateral violence, these methods are not solving this dilemma. Complicating matters, most United States legislators consider lateral violence an organizational problem instead of an issue which should be addressed legislatively. The U.S. is the last of the developed nations to initiate mandates outlawing lateral violence within the workplace. Internationally, seven countries have instituted anti workplace bullying statues.
The Australian state of Victoria enacted Brodie’s law in June 2011. Brodie’s law became the world’s first anti – bullying law to criminalize bullying. This law was named for Ms. Panlock, a 19 year old waitress who was tormented by three older coworkers. During her employment, Ms. Panlock was called, “fat, stupid, ugly, and a whore.” Also, Brodie’s tormenters physically restrained her in order to pour beer, oil, and fish sauce on her. Consequently, the abuse was intolerable for Ms. Panlock, she committed suicide in September 2006. ‘Brodie’s law makes it unlawful to make “threats to the victim”, to use or perform or direct towards the victim, “abusing or offending” words or acts. Also punishable is acting “in any other way that could be reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm…” Mental harm is defined as psychological harm or suicidal thoughts’ (Victoria State Government, 2016).
Within the healthcare spectrum, suicide due to lateral violence is a sobering reality. The continual stress of being bullied has caused some nurses to commit suicide. As result of vicious name-calling when transferred to a new unit, Mrs. Gettins, a 50 year old English nurse committed suicide by hanging in 2010. The Workplace Institute conducted a survey in 2012 of which indicated that 29% of bullying victims contemplated suicide, and 16% had a plan in place for carrying it out. Armed with these disturbing facts the author poses an important question, “Should the perpetrator be convicted of murder if their acts of bullying drive a person to commit suicide?” This an important question to address. The answer is yes. Unfortunately, stateside, anti – bullying statues contain vague or minimal language in reference to specific ramifications of bullying. Degree of punishment is usually left up to the institution. One way healthcare providers can address this is the act of petitioning local legislators to expand existing anti – bullying laws to accommodate healthcare providers. In my home state of Georgia, there are six anti – bullying laws. However, all of these laws are centered on education not healthcare. To give practitioners much needed legal protection against workplace bullying simply requires a language change to include healthcare providers. Also, the proposed expansion of existing anti – bullying statues must incorporate clear, concise language detailing consequences of lateral violence.
Another method of addressing this dilemma is organizing a grassroots campaign. The aim is to create awareness regarding the importance of instituting state and federal laws to protect healthcare providers from the negative effects of an unhealthy work environment. The Healthy Workplace Campaign was created by Dr. Gary Namie in 2001 to lobby for anti – bullying statues across the United States. To date, the Healthy Workplace Campaign has introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill in 29 states. Currently, none of the 29 states have passed this bill into law.
Victoria State Government. (February, 2016). Criminal Law. Retrieved April 20th, 2016, from http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/justice+system/laws+and+regulation/criminal+law/