The Employers Obligation in preventing workplace violence

Even after 26 years researching, studying, speaking, writing, and working with incidents of workplace violence (WPV), when I worked in the field (a few dozen incidents), it still flabbergasts me that companies are still in denial about it. They, mostly in the C-suite, simply refuse to believe that it can actually happen to their company.

I’m not totally sure as to why they refuse to look at the reality of possibilities that could, at the very least, cause negative feelings and injury to employees. I do realize that most of the C-suite are sequestered from the real world and don’t pay much attention except to the P & L statements.

They do, or should, have to realize that preparing the company for a WPV incident, in its many forms will save them financial resources and their company from bad publicity in the future. Of course bad publicity can cost many more $$$$ than lawsuits, medical bills, and equipment replacement.

If you ignore a problem and stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, don’t be surprised if you get bit in the butt. And with WPV it is very true. And if you get bit in the butt, it can be in many different ways – remember BP and the oil spill? Do you remember the firestorm that erupted over the CEO’s lack of reaction to the disaster, “I just want my life back”?

While I’m not a great proponent of governmental agencies including the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), they have set forth some excellent guidelines and rules for helping employees stay safe.

Employer’s Responsibility:

The employer’s responsibility is spelled out in the General Duty Clause, which states;

“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees 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 to his employees”.

This means that the employer must provide a place for the employee to work that is safe no matter what. If they don’t have a worksite that is safe, then they can be sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or privately by the employee.

And yes, while the words workplace violence is not specifically stated in the policy, it is covered by the general duty clause as well. All businesses should realize that their business is vulnerable and can be affected by WPV. If an employer denies or refuses to see a problem then that means they are short-sighted not because the hazard can’t be recognized.

Definition of Workplace Violence:

I have stated for a number of years that many incidents that aren’t considered WPV by law enforcement, the media and many others should be and actually are WPV. What are those, you ask?

Workplace Violence Research Institute of Palm Springs, Ca. states;

“Any act against an employee that creates a hostile work environment and negatively affects the employee, either physically or psychologically” A short list of them is as follows;

  • Physical assaults – This means the obvious but also throwing items in anger even as much as a pencil or coffee cup.
  • Verbal assaults – Even overly harsh dressing downs by supervisors, customers, and co-workers should be considered a verbal assault.
  • Threats – Not just from co-workers but those bomb threats which are phoned in and are hoaxes, white powder in envelopes, and empty boxes left out with protruding wires.
  • Coercion – No matter if it is subtle or overt it is still coercion and is considered WPV.
  • Intimidation – Standing over someone because you’re bigger, larger, and stronger or you can look menacing…
  • Harassment – This takes many forms, far too many to list here.


These forms of WPV can be taken in many forms. It is up to the employer, leads, supervisors, managers, and security personnel to ensure that none of these are taking place. If they allow any of these they can be sued. Whether they do it unwittingly or not.

And when an employer gets sued it can and usually does bring out the bad things in a whole litigation mess. From bad publicity, lawsuits, and having the company dragged through the stinking swamp mud. I can almost certainly guarantee that either you or your company doesn’t want anything of the sort. or Twitter: @robertsollars2

                                           I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear

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