Worker Fired For Reporting Unsafe Environment

Social workers and other mental health professionals are particularly vulnerable to patient threats because of the populations they consult. Now, one California woman is claiming that she was subject to retaliatory actions after she took independent actions to protect herself from a potentially violent patient. The woman, who had been a social worker for Kaiser Permanente, must still produce additional evidence in order to have her case considered, according to a federal judge.

The woman claims that she had been working at Kaiser in 2011 when another therapist revealed that her patient wanted to murder the plaintiff. She then approached her employer with the information in an effort to get a restraining order against the patient, who had revealed his desire to kill the social worker during couple’s counseling. Hospital officials did not take her complaints seriously, however, and administrators simply told her to forget about the problem. Next, she was subjected to disciplinary action because she had supposedly violated the patient’s medical privacy by talking about his therapy session with the other provider.

Finally, the complaint alleges that the woman was falsely accused of sending a suicidal person to a hospital without an escort. These disciplinary actions were used as an excuse to fire the woman in May 2012 after she reported an unsafe working environment.

A judge in the case did not seem to understand how a lack of a restraining order would provide a safer environment for patients and workers at the Kaiser facility. In addition, Kaiser contends that the woman failed to take appropriate administrative action in connection with the case, and she did not attempt to appeal the disciplinary action before filing a lawsuit.

Frankly, many employees are not aware of the various options available to them that could improve their personal safety. Additionally, workplace appeals can take months, and the woman could have languished without work while the disciplinary committee reviewed her case. A lawsuit is sometimes the only way to get the attention of a negligent employer.

Source:, “Kaiser worker’s retaliation case needs work” Matt Reynolds, Sep. 20, 2013