From the Labor & Employment Practice.
(Labor & Employment Newsletter – 2000)
Published in The Daily Record
Recent shootings in Georgia (9 killed in July), Alabama (3 killed in August) and Hawaii (7 killed in November) are a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of America’s workplace. These are the high profile cases which make the nightly news. The sobering truth is that in the United States, homicide is the second leading cause of death in the workplace. For women, it is the leading cause of workplace fatality. Each day in the workplace three people are killed and sixty-one are seriously injured. The attackers are often coworkers, customers, or patients.
Employer liability for the actions of third parties occurs when the employer does not act to prevent or eliminate a known threat. An employer will be better positioned to protect its employees and to defend itself in any lawsuit suggesting employer negligence if it can demonstrate that, at the time of the violent encounter, the employer had adopted and implemented a violence prevention program.
Employee involvement is critical to the successful implementation of a workplace violence program. Bring employees on board early in the planning stage. Consider using an employee survey to identify risks and how security measures can be improved. If practical, designate a threat assessment team composed of two or three people to evaluate the effectiveness of existing security measures. Have the team make recommendations for procedural guidelines should a threatening situation occur.
The focal point of any violence prevention program is preparedness – formulating a plan of action before something happens. The fundamentals of a no-nonsense workplace violence prevention program are the following:
- Make a clear statement that the employer is concerned about violence in society that may filter into the workplace, and that the employer intends to take immediate action to provide a safe and healthful work environment.
- Set zero tolerance for violent words and acts in the workplace environment, whether by employees or customers.
- Require employees who experience or witness workplace violence to immediately report it to a designated person.
- If customers or visitors engage in violent or potentially violent behavior, take appropriate action such as notifying law enforcement personnel or security.
- Properly train employees, especially receptionists, to be aware of potentially violent behavior characteristics.
- Receptionists should get to know security officers in their building, have telephone numbers for building security and local police formatted to speed dial.
- Take note of the warning signals especially if you know an employee:– may be prone to violence;
– makes use of the Company’s employee assistance program (EAP);
– displays a violent tendency, aggressive behavior, offensive comments or remarks.
- Review the hiring and termination processes. Introduce more comprehensive background screening for applicants since the best prediction of future violence is past violence. Also, how termination is conducted can make the difference between a routine event and a crisis.
- All employees should attend "preparedness" seminars, which are offered often in the most metropolitan areas.
- Zero tolerance extends to any object that could be considered a weapon on the employer’s premises.
The senseless killings experienced in the past few months should be a wake up call for each employer, large and small, to be proactive – first to protect its own employees and customers and second to protect itself from law suits.
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