Make Your Workplace Safer from Violence

Man yelling into his phone

Workplace violence isn't just limited to high-risk jobs such as police officers, taxi drivers and late night convenience store clerks.

Violence can happen anywhere. Workplace violence occurs at all types of businesses including factories, hospitals, engineering firms, advertising agencies and colleges. Every year, nearly two million American workers report being victimized by workplace violence, and many more incidents go unreported. Overall, workplace violence costs employers more than $120 billion a year, according to estimates by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The most recent records by the Bureau of Labor Statistics say workplace homicides rose by 2% to 417 cases in 2015, with shootings increasing by 15%. The 354 shootings in 2015 represented the first increase since 2012.

The annual cost to American companies is estimated at $120 billion a year when taking into account lost productivity, increased insurance premiums for workers' compensation, disability insurance, employee absence and rising turnover.

Add to that your company's legal liability for the acts. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a workplace free from hazards that cause harm or death. Some states and localities have similar laws.

A company can be liable under the common law tort theories of "Negligent Hire" and "Negligent Retention." These principles state that an employer has a duty to exercise reasonable care when hiring and retaining employees. If you know — or have reason to know — that an employee is dangerous, you're obliged to keep that individual away from other employees and the public.

Juries have assessed enormous compensatory damages for pain and suffering, and there's no cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.

It's in your company's best interests to be proactive. Consult with your attorney about your policies, procedures, handbook and training. Here are some steps to consider to help reduce danger at your company:

Testing Issues

Some employers have tried testing to gauge the propensity for violence in applicants or employees.

But the effectiveness is questionable and testing can set the stage for lawsuits claiming defamation of character, emotional distress, or invasion of privacy. Individuals with mental disabilities may argue discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act and related state laws.

Until accurate testing is developed and medical experts agree on uniform standards, employers must rely on gut reactions and background checks to evaluate individuals.

Check But Don't Ask

You can run a criminal record check to see if an applicant was ever convicted of a crime. But it's illegal to ask about a criminal arrest, which only means a person was suspected of a crime.

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