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I work in a home health care situation, and recently I was attacked by one of my clients. I was hit twice, one of which left marks, had my hair pulled, and had my head slammed against a table. I was told by my company that I may not fight back (which I already knew) but also am not allowed to physically restrain at all - meaning I cannot grab her hands or stop her from hitting me. My only option given to me by my company was to hold my arms up to protect myself, but I feel as though I'm entitled to some sort of safety in my workplace.

I work there again tomorrow. What is your advice if I am once again attacked by my client? Do I have any legal rights to protect myself in this situation? (I work in Missouri, if that helps.)

Updates: My client does not have any dementia, but also remains undisciplined for hitting her staff, which only encourages the behavior. I have spoken to my employer and the above was all that was said to me as far as protocol goes after being attacked.

Update 2: I am not asking about company specific protocols (obviously), I already know the company protocols but they are not sufficient to protect my safety. Also, I realize now this post belongs in legal, but as I am brand new to the site, I would appreciate it if someone with sufficient rep would suggest a move instead of people continuing to down vote my post. Also, I work for a small company. We don't have HR, and my manager is the owner of the company. It changes the relationship between employee and employer.

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    If the client suffers from dementia, fighting back may not have the desired effect, which could be one reason for the policy. When someone is cognitively impaired they may not draw conclusions like "oh, she doesn't want me to pull her hair" or "if I hit her again, she will hit me back, which will hurt" so fighting back may simply inflict pain or injury on the client without working as a strategy to keep the client from hitting you. A demented client needs special handling - for example, two workers. You are within your rights to ask for support from your employer and to be safe. – Kate Gregory May 1 '17 at 23:53
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    @Alyssa Please consider using a pseudonym when posting sensitive questions – Anthony May 1 '17 at 23:58
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    ok, so last I checked assault was prosecutable even for the mentally insane. Why is it you can't prosecute the client for assault and have them arrested? They have to adhere by the laws just like everyone else and beating someone up is not legal when last I checked... – mutt May 2 '17 at 4:26
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    Sit down with your manager and HR, and ask what to do. Then document what they said. Then call the police, involve them. You don't need to be attacked again. If you are fired, or disciplined for calling the police, call an employment lawyer. You should be able to settle for a nice sum. – Pete B. May 2 '17 at 13:42
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    You are not obligated to stay in any situation where you are being physically attacked or threatened. – pay May 3 '17 at 14:34
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I am not an attorney, but I'd bet money that your employer cannot make you waive your legal rights under Missouri state law.. here's an excerpt:

563.031. 1. A person may, subject to the provisions of subsection 2 of this section, use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person, unless:

(1) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case his or her use of force is nevertheless justifiable provided:

(a) He or she has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened use of unlawful force; or

(b) He or she is a law enforcement officer and as such is an aggressor pursuant to section 563.046; or

(c) The aggressor is justified under some other provision of this chapter or other provision of law;

(2) Under the circumstances as the actor reasonably believes them to be, the person whom he or she seeks to protect would not be justified in using such protective force;

(3) The actor was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a forcible felony.

What they're trying to do is to cover their own behinds because if YOU were ever in the wrong, they'd be legally liable as your employer. They don't want to deal with that possibility, so they've given you a bogus story that basically says to let the client kick your a--.

If I were you, I wouldn't go back to work without a written document that describes their policy - because if YOU get hurt, and can't work, then you have something on paper to stick them with, in court. Next time, though, get to safety and call the police immediately - as is your right. Do NOT get the idea that "taking one for the team" is in your benefit. Best of luck.

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    You may not be legally liable for defending yourself, but you may still be fired from your job for violating company policy by defending yourself. You'd be best served by a conversation with a lawyer. It may be in your rights to press charges for battery and/or bring litigation against your company for putting you in harm's way. You would need to discuss either with a lawyer. – Chris G May 1 '17 at 23:35
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    @ChrisG It's illegal to fire someone for exercising a right although realistically there's a good chance you'll be fired and have to fight it (if you want to). sba.gov/blogs/how-fire-employee-and-stay-within-law – JonK May 2 '17 at 2:36
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    @JonK the employer is more worried about a client (or client's family), potentially with deep pockets, deciding to sue. In their eyes, home health workers are disposable since the rate of pay probably precludes access to an attorney. – Xavier J May 2 '17 at 2:41
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    @Jonk I think you're interpreting that SBA page a little broadly. You can't be fired for exercising rights in regard to employment such as taking FMLA leave or other protected actions.... But a person can certainly be fired for exercising other rights. Imaging a Chrysler salesman exercising his 1st amendment right to free speech by telling customers that Chryslers are crappy and that they should head to the Toyota dealership down the street. Or turning up to the showroom floor exercising his 2nd amendment rights with a Colt .45 strapped to his belt. – Sean May 2 '17 at 16:51
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    @JonK: for FMLA, jury duty, etc. It's very specific and not a general statement like you are taking it. – NotMe May 3 '17 at 13:57
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codenoir's answer already addresses the legal aspect. I'll try to address the workplace aspect.

I work in a home health care situation, and recently I was attacked by one of my clients. [...] My only option given to me by my company was to hold my arms up to protect myself, but I feel as though I'm entitled to some sort of safety in my workplace.

You certainly are entitely to a safe workplace, even with difficult clients.

Attacks from clients/patients are unfortunately not uncommon in health care, and any employer should have a protocol. I have spoken to a nurse I know, and the general, sensible approach is:

  • Train nurses and other staff how to handle aggressive, disoriented and violent patients.
  • If a patient shows signs of becoming aggressive, leave immediately - never allow yourself to be pulled into a fight. If that means a patient is not washed that day, then so be it.
  • Sometimes, aggression is caused by disorientation, pain or general confusion, and can be managed if the patient is addressed and treated appropriately. This is obviously the best solution (and the reason for the training mentioned above).
  • However, if a patient is aggressive regularly, this needs to be addressed by the team and management.
    • If the aggressive patient is mentally competent, staff will usually call the police. For mentally impaired patients, options include:
    • Always assigning two persons to the patient.
    • Consulting with the patient's physician to discuss other options, such as problems with medication
    • Finally, sending the patient to a psychiatric ward if all else fails.

There are many resources online to help with this, for example Staying Safe When Dealing with Aggressive Patients as a Student.

I work there again tomorrow. What is your advice if I am once again attacked by my client? Do I have any legal rights to protect myself in this situation? (I work in Missouri, if that helps.)

The steps above are the steps your employer should already be taking. If they don't, they are not doing their job. Insist that they do, try to talk to colleagues about the problem. Of course, this may get you fired, but with your physical safety at risk, I don't think you have a realistic alternative.

In the short term, to handle violence from a client:

  • Leave immediately at the first sign of violence.
  • If the patient is mentally competent, call police to report an assault. Otherwise, call your employer to report that you cannot care for the patient right now (then, see the steps above).

Updates: My client does not have any dementia, but also remains undisciplined for hitting her staff, which only encourages the behavior. I have spoken to my employer and the above was all that was said to me as far as protocol goes after being attacked.

This sounds a lot as if your employer wants to ignore the problem, at the staff's cost. That is reprehensible and possibly illegal, but if they insist, your only option may be to find another job (and possibly legal action, but that is uncertain and will take time). Good luck!

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    And if you do not report the assault to the police, make sure it's documented somewhere where you have access to (i.e. not just your employer's files), including evidence such as photos of bruises, etc. At this point it's already clear that both the customer and your employer have a non-standard view of what's moral and ethical. While that absolutely doesn't have to mean they will do worse (such as pressing bogus charges against you if it serves their interest), it also doesn't give great confidence that they won't do so. – Peter May 4 '17 at 11:39
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Refuse to go to the client by yourself. You may not be paid much, but not many people want to do your job, and you have far more leverage than you realize. I have been on the other side of home health care with a family member who needed help, and it certainly seemed that the low-paid employees seemed to "run" the agencies they worked for.

  • could you consider explaining a bit more the reasons and benefits of your suggested answer? – DarkCygnus Oct 17 '17 at 15:11

protected by Mister Positive Oct 17 '17 at 14:26

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