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Workplace Violence

Sep 14, 2015

Every year, approximately two million people throughout the country are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace. Officials at the Department of Justice have found violence to be a leading cause of fatal injuries at work with about 1,000 workplace homicides each year. United States Department of Labor

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, workplace violence is defined as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior that occurs in a work setting. Incidents, which range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide, can involve employees as well as clients, customers, and other visitors.

What is the cost of workplace violence? While there are no exact costs reported, the federal government estimates it’s billions of dollars. Below are some of the wide-ranging types of costs that can be staggering to an organization.

  1. Temporarily or permanently losing a good employee
  2. Psychological damage to everyone involved
  3. Physical property being damaged, stolen or sabotaged — and the cost of fixing or replacing it
  4. Increased workers compensation costs
  5. Cost of security
  6. Loss of productivity and morale
  7. Public relations impact on employers and reputational damage

While no employer is immune from workplace violence, some occupational groups tend to be more at risk. These occupations include:

  1. health care employees
  2. correctional officers
  3. social services employees
  4. teachers
  5. municipal housing inspectors
  6. public works employees
  7. retail employees

In the case of workplace violence, an employer could be liable under OSHA if a victim or victim’s family can prove that the employer knew or should have known that violence could occur. Under OSHA, an employer may also be penalized if the U.S. Secretary of Labor establishes that the employer violated the General Duty Clause. In order to establish a violation, the Department of Labor must prove a hazard existed, the employer or its industry knew the hazard existed, the hazard was likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, and a feasible abatement method existed.

Employers also have a duty to exercise ordinary care. If workplace violence occurs, they may be sued for negligence if they knew or should have known of a potentially dangerous situation. Lawsuits could be based on negligent hiring, retention, training, or supervising of an employee who went on to commit violence at the workplace. Employers may also be sued for negligence if a customer or someone else made threats before carrying out violent acts, yet management failed to take any action.

Understanding the early warning signs of workplace violence and what should be done to prevent such acts is the responsibility of every employer.  To learn more, please contact Hylant.

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