Employment Alert

WI Staff | 1/20/2010, 5:31 p.m.

Do You Feel Safe at Work?

We have heard of shooting rampages at work over the years. Of recent memory, the St. Louis shooting spree which occurred in early January 2010, involved a worker who was embroiled in a dispute with his employer over his pension. For this alleged dispute, several people lost their lives, and several more were injured. But while the media tends to sensationalize these rampages, the fact remains that millions of American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. Add the current economic climate to the analysis, and we may see an increase in workplace violence, a rising concern for employers and employees alike.

So what is 'workplace violence' and who is vulnerable? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has defined it as "a physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting." It can take the form of intimidation, threats, harassment, violence, all the way up to homicide at or outside of work. Common perpetrators of workplace violence include current or former employees, strangers committing robberies, customers, contractors, clients, and individuals who have personal relationships with employees such as spouses and ex-spouses, who engage in domestic violence.

According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), while no worker is immune to workplace violence, there are some who are at an increased risk. These workers are those who "exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods or services; or work alone or in small groups, during late night or early morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public." Health-care and social service workers. Psychiatric evaluators. Probation officers. Security guards. Telephone and cable TV installers. Letter carriers. Taxi drivers. Visiting nurses. Police officers. Water and gas utility employees. Gas station workers.
Can we stop workplace violence? No, but there are many things employers and employees alike can do to protect the workplace and themselves, thereby reducing the likelihood of violence at work:

Employers should have a "zero-tolerance" policy toward workplace violence in place, educate their employees on conduct that is not acceptable at work, and train them on how to report workplace violence if they are subjected to or witness it.

Employees should attend personal safety training programs.

Supervisors should know their employees and know when the employee is acting out of the ordinary. For example, some behaviors that may predict workplace violence are when the employee acts out his or her anger by yelling and slamming doors; employees who act in a passive-aggressive manner; employees who deal with stress by lying, gambling or taking illegal drugs; employees who suddenly act in ways that are out of character; and employees who demonstrate excessive desperation.

Employees should notify their supervisors when they feel concerned for their safety and report incidents in writing.

Employers should secure the workplace as appropriate for their industry.

Both employers and employees should report incidents of workplace violence to the police.

Workplace violence can happen anywhere and at any time. Do you feel safe at work?

The contents of this Employment Alert are intended for informational purposes only and must not be considered as legal advice.
Karen A. Khan is a local attorney and litigator representing employers and employees in all areas of employment law who has represented both large corporations and individual employees alike in employment discrimination matters, and who has conducted litigation nationwide.

The Khan Law Group, PLLC is a Washington, D.C. based employment law firm representing corporate clients as well as individual employees with employment issues in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and nationwide. The Group is dedicated to providing the highest calibre of personalized legal services and representation.

Contact The Khan Law Group, PLLC at 202-290-1670, for a confidential consultation.