Resources - Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence — A Preventive Approach

Across the nation, violence in the workplace is emerging as a significant occupational hazard. All too frequently, employees become victims of violent acts that result in substantial physical or emotional harm. For injured or threatened employees, workplace violence can lead to medical treatment, missed work, lost wages, and decreased productivity.

For many occupations, workplace violence represents a serious occupational risk. Violence at work can take many forms: harassment, intimidation, threats, theft, stalking, assault, arson, sabotage, bombing, hostage-taking, kidnapping, extortion, suicide, and homicide. Homicide is the second leading cause of all job-related deaths and the leading cause of such deaths for women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (1994). For each murder, there are countless other incidents of workplace violence in which victims are threatened or injured. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), each year almost one million people are victims of violent crime while working. The BJS reports that nearly 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8 million workdays each year and more than $55 million in lost wages, not including days covered by sick and annual leave. These crimes are frequently under-reported because victims consider the matter too minor or too personal to get the police involved. The result is that the statistics do not capture the full impact of violence in the American workplace. The financial costs of assault from injuries, lost work time, and restricted duty are tremendous.

The Law

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act's General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful working environment for all workers covered by the OSH Act of 1970. Failure to implement the suggestions mentioned in this document is not in itself a violation of the General Duty Clause. If there is a recognized violence hazard in the workplace and employers do not take feasible steps to prevent or abate it, employers can be cited.

Courts have ruled that an employer is liable for the dangerous acts of employees if the employer does not use reasonable care in hiring, training, supervising, or retaining employees in the event such harm was foreseeable. An employer may be liable for the acts of an employee who is intoxicated, or otherwise a risk to others, if the employer exercises control over the employee, and is negligent in exercising that control. Customers, employees, and other people invited on to an employer’s premises may expect the employer to use reasonable care in the maintenance of its premises, including reasonable security precautions and other measures seeking to minimize the risk of foreseeable criminal intrusion (based upon the experience of the employer, or its location in a dangerous area). Under state and federal law, the employer must refrain from retaliation against employees who express their concerns regarding unsafe working conditions, such as threats of violence in the workplace.

In some jurisdictions, an employer, employment counselor, or therapist may have a duty to warn an identified employee, spouse, or third party, of a threat by an employee, co-worker, spouse, or other person, to do bodily harm to that employee, spouse, co-worker, or third party.

If an employer warns employees of an individual’s threat of violence, the employer could be liable for defamation if the employer is subsequently proved to be mistaken. The employer can minimize this liability by conducting a prompt investigation of all allegations and by only notifying those individuals who have a need to know of the risk. Employers may want to Contact legal counsel regarding their rights and responsibilities regarding these and other violence issues. These issues are motivating businesses to develop plans for addressing workplace violence. When compared with the potential costs of an incident, such plans are an inexpensive way to reduce the risk of violence, and to minimize its impact. As previously stated, Safety Insight does not intend to create rules specific to violence in the workplace; but, it can cite employers who fail to adequately protect their workers from acts of violence under the OSHA Act's General Duty Clause (Sec. 5a) that requires employers to maintain a safe workplace.

The Importance of Planning

The central theme which emerges from the shared experience of these specialists from different disciplines is this: While some cases of workplace violence can be dealt with swiftly and easily by a manager with the assistance of just one specialist or one department, most cases can be resolved far more easily and effectively if there is a joint effort which has been planned out in advance by specialists from different disciplines.

Be prepared

Many who have never experienced workplace violence say, I don't need to worry about this. It would never happen in my department. Violent incidents are relatively rare, but they do occur, and lives can be lost. A little preparation and investment in prevention now could save a life. There is no strategy that works for every situation, but the likelihood of a successful resolution is much greater if you have prepared ahead of time. This course is designed to help you do that: Be prepared for violence in the workplace.

Employers can take several steps to reduce the risk of legal liability. For example, they can implement careful hiring, employee evaluation, and discipline procedures; and adopt appropriate workplace security procedures. However, employers must be careful not to violate laws protecting employee privacy rights, civil rights, or rights created by the Americans with Disabilities Act.Employers conducting workplace violence risk assessments might want to consult with legal counsel.

The benefits of a joint effort

The experience of companies who have developed programs has shown that managers are more willing to confront employees who exhibit disruptive and intimidating behavior when they are supported by a group of specialists who have done their homework and are prepared to reach out to others when they know a situation is beyond their expertise. This team approach promotes creative solutions and much needed support for the manager in dealing with difficult situations that might otherwise be ignored.

Deal with disruptive situations

Ignoring a situation usually results in an escalation of the problem. Morale and productivity are lowered; effective employees leave the organization. On the other hand, dealing effectively with situations like hostility, intimidation, and disruptive types of conflict creates a more productive workplace. This can have a deterrent effect on anyone contemplating or prone to committing acts of physical violence. Employees will see that there are consequences for their actions and that disruptive behavior is not tolerated in their organization.

Source: OPM - Office of Personnel Management

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Copyright ©2000-2016 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Students may reproduce materials for personal study. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).