Workplace Violence & The “General Duty Clause”
Workplace violence is any type of violence or threat of violence against you or your employees. While most violent threats in the workplace are not life threatening or lead to an actual physical attack, there are many other types of threats that may be considered violent. Threats such as stalking, bullying, harassment, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and intimidation are all part of the workplace violence problem that has become a growing concern for employers and employees of small businesses and corporations alike.
The Fed-OSHA Act “General Duty Clause” states clearly that employers have a legal if not ethical obligation to establish a work environment free from violence, and may face serious liability if negligent in this duty. In addition to liability and lawsuit costs as a result of workplace violence, you may experience lost work time, a drop in employee morale, a loss in productivity, increased workers’ compensation costs and prolonged medical expenses.
As an employer, you will need to establish a workplace violence prevention program in writing, outlining standard policy and operating procedures addressing your lack of tolerance for violence and a course of action if abused. Although all larger corporations have definite written policies and procedures in place, many smaller companies do not. If your company does not have a written policy on workplace violence, the time to do so is now.
When writing your policy you must bear in mind that risk varies with the employee job description and with your type of company in general. If you exchange money, have extensive public contact, work in a high crime area or late at night, deliver goods, services or passengers you have a higher risk factor than if you work in a secure office building. These risk factors must be taken in consideration when formulating your program. The program itself may be in the form of an employee handbook as part of the hiring packet, part of your safety manual or a document with just a few pages specifically dedicated to workplace violence prevention and resolution.
Your written program should be predicated with a statement that establishes a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by your employees. Set up an atmosphere that will encourage employees to come forward with claims of experiencing or witnessing workplace violence. Establish a definitive step by step procedure in dealing with complaints that will guarantee that any grievance will be taken seriously, investigated and resolved. It is vital that every procedural step must be documented in writing and signed off by all parties involved. You must distribute a copy to all employees requiring each to sign a statement acknowledging that they have received and read these polices, understand them and agree to fully comply by their provisions.
Also as an employer, you need to recognize the high-risk everyday behaviors that indicate the need for preventative intervention. There are warning signs that communicate a propensity toward violence long before it occurs. Legally you may be held responsible if a violent act occurs at your place of business, whether it is against or by an employee, vendor or customer. Your best defense is to take steps now to provide your employees with a safe and secure workplace environment.