Violence and conflict in the workplace has been on the rise in recent years. In addition to the immediate harm to employees and the business in the wake of a workplace violence event, there may be further legal implications.
Workplace violence continues to garner significant attention by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While there are no specific OHSA workplace violence standards, courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous, and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. Any employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence, and to meet its basic duty of care obligation, should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with administrative controls and training.
Although it is not possible to prevent every occurrence of workplace violence, there are steps that can be taken to decrease the overall chance of such occurrences, increase preparedness and response, and reduce liability in the event of workplace violence. A basic workplace violence prevention program includes, among other things, an underlying workplace violence policy, training and awareness (including specific manager-level training), reporting protocols, drills and exercises, and response actions.