Employment laws passed by the U.S. Congress are rarely specific to the health care industry per se. Most labor laws are universal in their application and are intended to apply to all businesses, including those in the health care industry. The sections of the U.S. Code, the multivolume set of books that list every law passed by the federal government, that pertain to requirements imposed on businesses and other organizations, that deal with labor laws, and which are administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, include the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), workers’ compensation laws, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the whistleblower protection provisions of the above referenced OHSA laws. All of these laws provide protections for individual employees who believe they have been the target of discriminatory policies or actions, and that are intended to protect them from unsafe work conditions – a situation that most certainly includes medical facilities. Health care organizations, especially hospitals, are filled with health and safety risks, ranging from the potential spread of deadly toxins and infections to the routine, day-to-day functioning of a large organization in which falls from ladders (e.g., maintenance workers fixing light fixtures or replacing ceiling tiles for which they are using a ladder) and slips on wet surfaces can occur with as much regularity as in many workplaces. In addition, health care workers are no different than any other when it comes to requiring time-off from their jobs for personal matters or to care for a new-born baby – in other words, the employee protections included in the Family and Medical Leave Act.
By their nature, medical facilities are heavily regulated. Their life-and-death missions require a higher level of scrutiny than is the case with most businesses, and the failure to adequately monitor and police their own employees can create expensive and embarrassing problems for medical facilities. Hospitals are particularly vulnerable to both civil and criminal complaints, and maintain their own legal offices for the express purpose of ensuring compliance with all relevant federal, state and local laws. Hospitals tend to have very ethnically-diverse staffs with large representations from both main genders, which means particular attention is paid to the employee equality provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; the Americans With Disabilities Act; the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act of 1989; the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; and, of course, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. All of these laws directly apply to health care organizations. Health care organizations are as vulnerable as any – sometimes more so – to charges of gender or racial discrimination, and also pose unique challenges with regard to worker safety. In addition to the more mundane injuries that occur, medical staff are vulnerable to infections stemming from accidental needle pricks, as well as from exposure to yet-to-be-identified infectious diseases from newly-admitted patients. For all of these reasons, health care industry employees require the same legal protections as those afforded every other industry.