Workplace Violence: Not Just an Internal Issue

One of the reasons we enjoy working in employment and labor law is because if something is happening out in the real world, it’s likely happening in the workplace as well.  Unfortunately, sometimes that “something” is violence.  Over the years, the workplace has become a setting for violent actions between coworkers, supervisors, customers, and members of the general public.

Every workplace should have a policy against violent behavior, which includes not only the use of force against another, but the threat of force against another in the workplace.  In most situations (except at times when violence is necessary for self-defense) violence should be seen as a terminable offense on the first violation.  However, when violence occurs in the workplace, it may go beyond internal policy and become an Occupational Safety and Health issue.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) applies to all forms of safety issues within the workplace, and that includes violence.  Inspectors and investigators respond to complaints and conduct investigations of workplace violence and worksites that are in industries with a high incidence of workplace violence, such as healthcare, social services, late-night retail, and correctional facilities.

Employers may be found in violation of the OSHA “General Duty Clause” if they fail to reduce or eliminate serious recognized workplace violence hazards.  While OSHA typically will not conduct an investigation for co-worker violence, it will investigate cases involving criminal intent, and customers, patients, and clients when they occur in high-risk environments.

Employers who fail to keep the workplace free of a recognized hazard, when the hazard caused or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm, may be found in violation of OSHA if there was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

For those who have not been subject to an OSHA investigation or inspection, congratulations.  They are neither convenient nor comfortable situations, and they have the possibility of yielding significant penalties for employers who fail to take corrective action when faced with recognized threats.

With the changing workplace, labor shortages, and quick tempered customers and employees, it is possible for a workplace that was once safe to now be considered a high risk environment.  It falls upon the employer to ensure that its employees are working in safe conditions, and protected from threats of violence in all forms.

If you, or your organization, need assistance with workplace violence policies or training, feel free to reach out to the experts at Wiley Reber Law, for legal advice that works.