Workplace violence: How to identify and prevent it

We have written extensively in this blog about sexual harassment. We have not explored, however, the fact that workplace sexual harassment cases sometimes include violence.

In this blog post, we will take a close look at how the law views workplace violence. In our next post, we examine a specific case of workplace violence in Los Angeles.

Definition of workplace violence

Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It can include threats, verbal abuse, physical assault or even homicide.

How common is workplace violence?

It's estimated that more than 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year, OSHA says. California statistics show that workplace homicide is not uncommon.

Who's at risk for workplace violence?

Anyone can be the victim of workplace violence, but OSHA says these workers face heightened risk:

  • Workers who exchange money with the public
  • Delivery workers
  • Those who work alone or in small groups
  • Those who work during late night or early morning hours
  • Those who work in high-crime areas
  • People who work in settings where they have extensive contact with the public

The last group includes: health-care and social service workers; gas and water utility employees; phone and cable TV installers, letter and package carriers; retail workers; and taxi drivers.

What you can do

Nothing can guarantee that you will not become a victim of workplace violence. OSHA says these steps, however, can help reduce the risks:

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs
  • Reports concerns about safety or security to supervisors, and report all incidents immediately in writing
  • Whenever possible, avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations
  • Carry only small amounts of money into community settings

What your employer should do

California labor law and OSHA require employers to provide a safe workplace. California also has specific laws that protect health care workers. Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or stop violence in the workplace can face fines and penalties.

After a workplace violence incident, it's reasonable for you to expect that your employer will:

  • Encourage you to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence
  • Provide medical evaluation and treatment
  • Report violent incidents to the local police
  • Discuss the incident with staff members

In addition, under California law, employers can seek temporary restraining orders to protect employees. Employers also should encourage employees to share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.

If you have questions about workplace violence, contact an attorney who has experience in this area of the law.