Question: I am concerned about the apparent increase in workplace violence. Is there anything employers can or should do to protect employees and others from workplace violence?
Answer: Workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide.  According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.  Workplace violence ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide, and can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors alike.
Under OSHA’s “general duty” clause, employers must provide employees with a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.  Although “recognized hazards” were traditionally thought of as arising from unsafe work practices, workplace violence now constitutes a recognized hazard which employers have a general duty to guard against.  The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (“Cal-OSHA”) “Guidelines for Workplace Security” describes preventative measures employers may be required to adopt, based on the potential for workplace violence in certain types of at-risk businesses.
Therefore, prudent employers should adopt policies and procedures and provide training aimed at reducing the potential for all types of workplace violence.  Depending on the nature of the employer’s business and its potential for incidents of workplace violence, these policies may stand alone, or be incorporated into the company’s employee handbook, injury and illness prevention program, or manual of standard operating procedures.
First among those policies should be a written “zero tolerance” policy against actual or threatened violence in the workplace.  Policies must not discriminate against employees or others based on race, religion, national origin, or any other protected category.
A workplace violence prevention policy should cover all workers, clients, visitors, patients, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with employees. Employers should also establish processes and procedures for:

  • Defining and recognizing workplace violence;
  • Reporting and investigating actual or threatened violence, abusive or other inappropriate or alarming conduct;
  • Training employees how to react in a workplace violence episode;
  • Creating a safety plan;
  • Resolving employee grievances and complaints; and
  • Protecting employees against retaliation for reporting workplace violence.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a training video to educate the public on how to respond to an active shooter incident in the workplace.  Employers may consider using this video entitled “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” as a workplace violence prevention training tool, albeit with a warning that the initial scenes in the video are violent and may be disturbing to some viewers.
If an employee has been the victim of unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence in the workplace, the employer can obtain a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief to protect the employee, the employee’s family, and others at the workplace.
Employers who responsibly create and implement workplace violence prevention policies, and train employees and managers, will help to create a safer working environment.
OSHA’s workplace violence website is https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/.
The Cal-OSHA Guidelines are available on the California Department of Industrial Relations’ website at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh_publications/worksecurity.html.
The FBI’s “Run. Hide. Fight.” video is available at https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-incidents/run-hide-fight-video.