Employee violence is a huge legal risk that, as an employer, you have to try to mitigate where you can.
That makes it important to understand as much as you can about the problem.
How serious is the issue of workplace violence?
No one likes to think that they're not safe at work -- but some high-stress jobs can create a "pressure cooker" of intense feelings that provoke sudden violence.
Other times, an employee becomes the target of an outsider who brings the violence into the workplace. An employee can become the sudden target of a client's rage or fall victim to a stalker that tracks him or her to work.
It happens more often than most people probably realize. According to government studies, over 11,000 people were murdered in the years between 1992-2006 while at work. More than a million and a half additional employees are victimized by workplace violence every year.
How is workplace violence defined?
Workplace violence is defined as any type of verbal or physical abuse or threatening behavior toward an employee from either a boss, co-worker, customer or any other person (like a stalker or abusive spouse).
What's also important for employers to understand is that the workplace is somewhat broadly defined. It essentially includes not only the main workplace but also outlying sites, buildings, sheds, travel (to and from work sites), the homes of clients (in certain industries) and parking lots.
How can an employer be held liable for any violence?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide employees a workplace free of "recognized hazards," including any obvious dangers to an employee's well-being.
The biggest question is whether or not you, the employer, exercised ordinary care to prevent the violence. For example:
- Did you have any mechanisms in place to keep nonstaff members out of staff-only areas (like photo IDs and key cards)?
- If you were in a high-crime area or in a business that has a high-risk of criminal attack, did you have adequate security?
- Did you do background checks on new employees to check for violent criminal histories?
- Did you adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward threatening, bullying or other violent and aggressive behavior between employees?
An employment litigation attorney can help to mitigate lawsuit risks over employee violence. Our firm has experienced attorneys who may be able to help meet your needs.