Employers should institute workplace violence prevention programs, and training is a critical element of any such program.
What is Workplace Violence?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence includes “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Acts of workplace violence range from verbal abuse to homicide. Workplace violence can involve anyone at the work site, including employees, clients, contractors, and visitors.
How Common is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence, including active shooter situations, is a major threat to employees in the United States.
OSHA reports that two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. In fact, homicide is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Furthermore, in the last two decades alone, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported over 277 active shooter incidents in the United States, the vast majority of which took place in businesses, schools, government offices, and other places controlled by employers.
These incidents highlight the need for employers to protect their employees.
What Are Employers’ Responsibilities to Their Employees?
Clearly, employers have a moral and ethical obligation to protect employees from preventable harm in the workplace. Moreover, under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers are legally required to provide employees with “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The agency has clarified that workplace violence can constitute such a hazard, and employers can face enforcement action for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent it. States are also increasingly adopting laws that require workplace violence prevention programs, particularly for employers in the health care industry.
It is therefore critical for employers to implement reasonable, effective prevention programs to combat workplace violence.
What Constitutes an Effective Workplace Violence Prevention Program?
Preparing for incidents of workplace violence and active shooter situations is imperative. The most important way to do so is with a comprehensive workplace prevention program.
An effective workplace violence prevention program requires employers to take a holistic approach to keeping employees safe. Effective strategies include management and worker commitment to safety, comprehensive company policies that clearly indicate zero tolerance for violence at work, periodic evaluation of prevention programs, and workplace culture change.
The key to implementing each of these strategies is clear, comprehensive training. Any workplace violence prevention program must include effective training so that employees and management know how to spot, report, and prevent instances of violence. Only through such training can programs become truly effective and ingrained in workplace culture.
Why is Training Vital to a Workplace Prevention Program?
First and foremost, employers should provide workplace violence training to demonstrate that they care about the safety of their employees, customers, and clients. Proper training helps individuals mitigate threats and saves lives. For instance, in January 2022, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said active shooter training helped him save the lives of his congregants after a 10-hour standoff with a shooter. Employers must provide this type of training to protect the lives of their employees.
Additionally, there are also numerous legal reasons to implement workplace violence training.
OSHA has produced resources to help employers comply with their obligations to run a safe workplace. Importantly, OSHA has created a workplace violence fact sheet to advise employers on what steps they must take to mitigate risks on the job site. One important recommendation is for employees to “learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.”
This is not just a federal issue: many state governments are beginning to require workplace violence training as part of overall prevention programs.
New York public employers must develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence. Employers comply with this law by providing training and information for employees around the workplace violence prevention program.
Such training is particularly critical in the healthcare industry, as ten different states require healthcare providers to plan and provide workplace prevention training: California; Connecticut Illinois Maryland; Minnesota; Nevada; New Jersey; New York (public agencies); Oregon; and, Washington
Workplace violence prevention training has already been embraced in other countries, as well. All workplaces in Ontario, Canada require employees to receive training on workplace violence and harassment to prevent threats, intimidation, and physical violence. In the United Kingdom, employers are liable for incidents of workplace violence and are encouraged to train workers to deal with the risks of harassment and violence.
Effective Training Can Limit Liability
Finally, effective training can also help limit or eliminate legal liability if an employer is sued.
Employees can normally receive workers’ compensation for all injuries arising in the course of their employment – including workplace violence incidents that relate to work or work duties. These workers’ compensation claims can be very costly for employers who must pay their employees medical costs in addition to their lost wages.
While workers’ compensation claims are sometimes the exclusive remedy to a workplace violence incident, there are times when an employee could also bring a negligence claim against their employer. Additionally, non-employees injured or impacted by incidents of workplace violence may also sue. In Elliott v. S.D. Warren Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held a violation of an OSHA regulation is evidence of negligence. The Ninth Circuit and Third Circuit have also held that such a violation is evidence of negligence.
Because an employer’s responsibilities are increasingly seen to include protecting employees from workplace violence, it is in the best interest of employers to limit incidents of workplace violence by providing effective training.
Where Can Employers Find Reliable, Comprehensive Training?
Clear Law Institute provides interactive, online active shooter training and workplace violence training. To create this training, Clear Law Institute worked with former FBI attorney and agent Katherin Scheit, who is a member of Clear Law’s Compliance Advisory Team. At the FBI, Katherine authored the FBI’s seminal research, A Study of 160 Active Shooter Incidents in the United States.
Clear Law’s training teaches individuals to spot red flags of potential workplace violence and gives detailed instructions on what to do if there is an active shooter in the building.
This online course is fully customizable; each organization can include their logo, workplace images, introductory messages, and the company’s unique policies and procedures for workplace violence prevention.
About the Author
Michael Johnson, CEO of Clear Law Institute, is a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who brought one of DOJ’s first “pattern or practice” sexual harassment cases. He has provided training and consulting on harassment prevention or investigations to organizations around the world, such as the EEOC, the United Nations, and Google. He is a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School.
Cal/OSHA is sending signals that it will begin treating workplace violence the same way it treats other safety hazards. Employers need to be listening carefully so they will be prepared to comply.Read More