Employer Responsibility to Protect Employees From Violent Acts
As the owner of your company, one morning you receive a very disturbing phone call. The ex-husband of Mary Jones, a long time and very valuable employee, has made a veiled threat on the telephone saying “You had better fire Mary or else.” You call Mary in and ask her what is going on. Mary says he has threatened her with violence and knowing her ex-husband she takes the threat very seriously. Mary has obtained a restraining order on her ex-husband and suggests you do the same. Mary has given you very good advice; you need to report the call to the police, as well as obtain a restraining order for your company against the ex-husband. The Fed-OSHA Act contains a General Duty Clause which requires employers to provide their employees with a safe and secure workplace, free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This “veiled threat” has now become a real physical threat when Mary warned you of his violent nature. You now have a responsibility to provide protection for your employees, vendors, customers or any visitor to your facility. Local law enforcement will only respond, and unfortunately, they cannot be expected to assign an officer to your facility. The first thing you think of is to simply hire a security guard from a local security company. Although Overton Security is in the business of providing security guards, I would not assign a security guard under these circumstances. Security guards armed or not, are not trained to deal with this type of threat. Protecting individuals is a very different discipline from securing property.
Given the risks involved, the only real solution to protecting your employees, and to a very large extent your legal liability, is generally referred to in the security industry as Executive Protection (EP). Most EP Officers have law enforcement backgrounds with the highest level of training in conflict resolution and threat assessment. If the situation dictates they have permits to carry a concealed weapon which requires an extensive background check, along with approval from law enforcement. Very few of these permits (CCW) are issued.
The threat of workplace violence can be extremely disruptive to your business, especially when your employees see a uniformed officer walking around with an exposed weapon. EP Officers will make every effort to blend into the work environment and remain as commonplace as possible. I am very proud of the fact that in the many years my company, Overton Security, has been providing Executive Protection Services we have never had an instance where a weapon was brandished, let alone discharged. Most EP providers can also make this same claim. If there is an incident, EP Officers will focus on preventing the incident from escalating by removing the conflict to an isolated area and attempt to settle the dispute in a private manner. If an incident escalates to such an extent that there is no other choice other than to use force to directly protect lives, the EP Officer is very well trained to react only with the force that is necessary.
An Executive Protection Services Officer’s experience, training, and good judgment does not come without costs, but considering the cost of attorney fees defending lawsuits from injured parties both physically and/or stress related, the price will seem like a bargain. After talking with Mary about receiving the threatening telephone call you incurred a legal duty to protect your employees. Other than firing Mary, closing down your business or just doing nothing, you have few options. It doesn’t seem fair, but again, as a business owner, you assume the legal responsibility to provide a save and secure environment for your employees. -Jason Solorzano, VP of Operations, Overton Security