Did you miss Part One? You can read it here.
In our previous issue we took a look at the different forms of violence that occur everyday in workplaces across America. While the number of incident reports (workplace violence accounts for 18 percent of all violent crimes) and the ruthlessness of the violent acts carried out against workers made for some unsettling reading, we learned that we are far from powerless.
The first steps in prevention begin with a full understanding of today's definition of workplace violence, as well as an agreement that the workplace can be anywhere that work occurs rather than a rigid geographic location where your employees first gather in the morning. When you are all together, it's important that you observe others for some warning signs that indicate trouble could be brewing. This might include excessive nervousness, strange or out-of-character behavior, drug or alcohol misuse, eternal grudges, traumatic stress like divorce or a decline in health, a new fascination with weapons or talk of death.
Perhaps most importantly, we spoke of the ethical imperative that all business owners have to use every practical management option available to contain this crime. It becomes the owner's duty to ensure that their employees are not placed in assignments or environments that could compromise their personal safety. Secondly, each company should adopt a deterrent policy (Zero Tolerance Policy) declaring violent acts intolerable. To that end, Surface Fabrication magazine and Whip-Smart Management Consulting LLC have partnered to make available, at no cost to our readers, a comprehensive and customizable Workplace Violence Zero Tolerance Policy, which can be immediately issued to your employees by making a simple email request. Please request yours today (check the last paragraph for further details).
There is another stark reality that accompanies workplace violence and that is liability. Should an employee of yours be injured or suffer as a result of workplace violence or if one of your employees commits a crime or violent act where other workers or members of the public are injured, the odds are good that you and your company will be named as a responsible party. The headlines teach us that only in the rarest of circumstances can you make your business bullet-proof against lawsuits and charges of negligent action — but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to lessen the likelihood of terrible happenings and/or make your company a far less attractive target for litigants.
Avoiding Liability Takes Commitment
This portion of the workplace violence story is to show business owners the leadership role that they need to take in order to reduce the damage from workplace violence in our country. Along with the opportunity to lead the charge on this issue, we want our readers to contemplate the astronomical damage that workplace violence inflicts upon the national economy as well as the damage caused to each individual company's bottom line. The financial wallop includes the vast amount lost to legal costs, court-ordered payments, damages, insurance premiums, out-of-court mediation, lost work, production stoppages, rehabilitation, counseling, etc.
Notably, there is not yet any national legislation that specifically addresses workplace violence although special attention, in the form of non-binding recommendations, is paid to certain businesses like healthcare institutions, late night retail establishments (i.e. convenience stores), government agencies and taxi services, because of the targeting and concentration of violence at these establishments. As for companies such as fabrication shops, there is a General Duty Clause found within The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act which requires employers to provide a place of employment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to . . . employees." There's a lot of room for play in that last sentence. Plaintiffs love loose language. Do you?
A New Meaning For Negligence
In addition to the OSHA's General Duty Clause, employers may be liable for acts of workplace violence based on various negligence theories, including: negligent hiring; negligent training; negligent supervision; negligent retention and negligent recommendation or misrepresentation.
Negligent Hiring: This is a legal theory based on the principle that an employer has a duty to protect its employees, customers, and the general public from injuries caused by employees whom the employer knows, or should know, pose a risk of harm to others. If an employer doesn't demonstrate reasonable care in the selection process of an applicant (i.e. reference and job checking to determine that employee's fitness for the job) and other employees or customers are harmed, that employer may be found negligent. There are steps that employers should take to protect themselves against liability:
• Carefully review all applications and resumes before hiring an applicant.