Workplace Violence Against Nurses in Canada: A Legal Analysis

Sioban Nelson, Kathleen Leslie, Aleah McCormick, John Paul Gonsalves, Andrea Baumann, Natalie J. Thiessen, Catharine Schiller

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Workplace violence against nurses is a significant global occupational health problem, with incidents of violence increasing in frequency since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In this article, we provide a review of recent legislative amendments meant to bolster workplace safety in health care in Canada, analyze legal cases where nurses were the victims of violence, and discuss what these legal reforms and decisions reveal about how nurses’ work is treated within the Canadian legal system. Under criminal law, the limited number of cases we could find with oral or written sentencing decisions show that, historically, the fact a victim was a nurse was not always considered an aggravating factor on sentencing. Recent legislative amendments make this a specified aggravating factor and it is important to track the impact of these amendments when judges exercise their discretion in sentencing. Under employment law, it appears that, despite the government's efforts to increase the deterrence factor under legislation with significantly increased fines for employers who fail to protect their employees from injury, courts remain reluctant to impose such sanctions. In these cases, it is also important to track the impact of harsher penalties. We conclude that combating the widespread normalization of workplace violence in health care, and specifically against nurses, is acutely needed to help ensure that these ongoing legal reforms aimed at improving the safety of health workers are effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-254
Number of pages16
JournalPolicy, Politics, and Nursing Practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov. 2023


  • Canada
  • criminal law
  • delivery of health care
  • employment
  • government
  • liability
  • nursing
  • occupational health
  • workplace violence


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