Articles | Cases

Workplace violence: an employer's responsibility

While workplace violence is rare, high profile cases have intensified public awareness and liability risks for employers. The bar of responsibility for employers is raised well beyond adhering to the OSHA general duty clause of employer responsibility to maintain a safe work environment.

Following the Aurora, CO massacre, the Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security released a You-Tube video, Run, Hide, Fight, that deals with a live shooter event. It's impactful and disturbing, including images of a shooter walking into a workplace and beginning to fire. It went viral instantly with the number of views now well over one million. Mayor Annise Parker had the video produced as part of a disaster preparedness plan, but decided to release it early after the Aurora incident.

According to a CBS news release, Parker said she believes at least two uncomfortable truths were uncovered by the massacre in Aurora: Mass shootings can happen anywhere, anytime. And people caught in crossfire usually have no idea how to protect themselves. In a crisis situation, there is no time to stop and analyze; the goal of the video is to offer a simple phrase and strategy of protection.

While the video is excellent and active shooter programs are necessary, they do not address the overall issue of workplace violence. Although robbers or other assailants, according to government data, perpetrate the majority of work-related homicides, disgruntled employees, domestic violence, and harassment also dominate workplace violence.

Employers not only have an obligation to train employees on how to protect themselves should violence occur but also do a better job on the front-end to reduce the risk. When incidents do occur, employers will be called on to answer to their level of preparedness and what they could and should have done to prevent the risk.

Some key areas are:

While dealing with the aftermath of an emotionally cataclysmic event such as a workplace killing can be a nightmare for employers, the added element of fines and lawsuits can be devastating. The exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation statute will not prevent legal actions based upon negligence in either hiring or retaining an employee who commits a violent act.

Employers who fail to take this obligation seriously not only face penalties from governmental agencies but claims of negligence, negligent hiring and negligent retention from employees, as well as increased Workers' Compensation costs and lost work time for injured employees.

The best defense is preparation and a proper plan. A good resource is the American National Standard, Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention prepared by ASIS International, a trade organization for security professionals and the Society for Human Resource Management.