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Increase in Workplace Violence – OSHA Report and Guidance

EverythingHR Staff | 11/10/2021 | Blog

As consultants, advising employers on compliance, employee relations and best practices, we know that the guidance we provide will often have a significant impact on the professional (and sometimes personal) lives of the employees represented by our members.

Nowhere is this responsibility felt more intensely than when it comes to matters of workplace hostility that could potentially lead to violence.  It is a harsh reality, magnified by increased occurrences over the past few years.  This is driven home by a recent report by OSHA that violence is now the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries.

Understanding the root causes, conducting thorough background checks, supervisory training, employee assistance programs, consistent engagement with all employees and a solid, comprehensive policy can all go a long way to reducing the risks.  Please continue to our blog for a detailed examination of the current state of this issue based on OSHA’s recent report.  Included at the end of the post is a model Workplace Violence policy that might be good to review and compare.

Warning: Violence is Third-Leading Cause of Fatal Occupational Injuries

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSH Act) General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful work environment for all covered workers, which includes protecting them against workplace violence. With many employees continuing to work remotely because of COVID-19, employers have let their guard down. But the physical, mental, and emotional stresses resulting from the pandemic mean you need to be prepared for conflicts now more than ever before.

Tensions Rising During Pandemic

Disagreements over politics, vaccinations, and mask wearing have fueled violent workplace conflicts over the past 18 months. Based on the most recent available statistics from the National Safety Council, physical assaults in the workplace in 2019 resulted in 20,870 injuries (nearly double the 11,690 assault-related injuries reported in 2011) and 454 fatalities.

In light of the statistics, you must be prepared to confront potential workplace violence on the horizon. Here are some things you should know:

What is workplace violence? According to the 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. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”

When must employers report workplace violence to OSHA? It depends. OSHA doesn’t have specific workplace violence reporting requirements. Rather, its general reporting requirements apply.

You must report any worker fatality to OSHA within eight hours and any amputation, loss of an eye, or hospitalization within 24 hours. Therefore, if the workplace violence results in a reportable injury as defined by the agency, you must report the situation accordingly.

What measures should be taken to prevent workplace violence? According to OSHA, “the best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees.” A zero-tolerance policy allows you to remove the violent offender at the first sign of violence, potentially preventing an escalation of the conflict down the road.

You should implement a workplace violence prevention program and incorporate training into regular safety meetings or other periodic policy discussions with employees.

What should you do if workplace violence strikes? Immediately triage the situation. Depending on the circumstances, building security or your local police department may need to get involved. Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment as necessary, including calling paramedics or sending the employee to urgent care for needed assistance.

When the emergency is resolved, encourage the affected employees to report the circumstances of the incident. Use the information to learn from the situation, and institute corrective measures to avoid similar episodes in the future.

Be Prepared

Don’t forget to be prepared for the aftermath. Depending on the circumstances, the affected employees may need stress-debriefing sessions or post-traumatic counseling services to help them recover from the violent incident. Understand what services are available to your workers, have referrals at the ready, and encourage them to take advantage of the assistance.

Assess whether an ongoing threat is possible. If so, consider whether an injunction against workplace harassment (i.e., a protection order) against the violent offender is warranted. In Arizona, an injunction may be obtained at your city, county, or justice courts.

Article courtesy of content partner BLR.  Author, Jodi R. Bohr, is a shareholder with Tiffany & Bosco, P.A., and a contributor to Arizona Employment Law Letter.

Your Policy

Reviewing handbooks on a daily basis as we do, we often flag the Workplace Violence policy (if it is even included) as insufficient.  An updated policy should read somewhat like the anti-harassment policy in that it will contain reporting procedures and focus on immediate action.

Note that in certain jurisdictions (including the state of Texas), the weapons prohibition is not fully enforceable without separate specific postings and notices. Further, in certain jurisdictions, individuals cannot be prohibited from carrying concealed weapons in Company parking lots and other similar areas.

Workplace Violence Model Policy

For comparison purposes

COMPANY is strongly committed to providing a safe workplace. The purpose of this policy is to minimize the risk of personal injury to employees and damage to Company and personal property.

We do not expect employees to become experts in psychology or to physically subdue a threatening or violent individual. Indeed, we specifically discourage employees from engaging in any physical confrontation with a violent or potentially violent individual. However, we do expect and encourage employees to exercise reasonable judgment in identifying potentially dangerous situations.

Experts in the mental health profession state that prior to engaging in acts of violence, troubled individuals often exhibit one or more of the following behaviors or signs: over-resentment, anger and hostility; extreme agitation; making ominous threats such as bad things will happen to a particular person, or a catastrophic event will occur; sudden and significant decline in work performance; irresponsible, irrational, intimidating, aggressive or otherwise inappropriate behavior; reacting to questions with an antagonistic or overtly negative attitude; discussing weapons and their use, and/or brandishing weapons in the workplace; overreacting or reacting harshly to changes in Company policies and procedures; personality conflicts with co-workers; obsession or preoccupation with a coworker or Supervisor; attempts to sabotage the work or equipment of a co-worker; blaming others for mistakes and circumstances; or demonstrating a propensity to behave and react irrationally.

Prohibited Conduct

Threats, threatening language or any other acts of aggression or violence made toward or by any Company employee WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. For purposes of this policy, a threat includes any verbal or physical harassment or abuse, any attempt at intimidating or instilling fear in others, menacing gestures, flashing of weapons, stalking or any other hostile, aggressive, injurious or destructive action undertaken for the purpose of domination or intimidation. To the extent permitted by law, employees and visitors are prohibited from carrying weapons onto Company premises.

Procedures for Reporting a Threat

All potentially dangerous situations, including threats by co-workers, should be reported immediately to any member of management with whom the employee feels comfortable. Reports of threats may be maintained confidential to the extent maintaining confidentiality does not impede our ability to investigate and respond to the complaints. All threats will be promptly investigated. All employees must cooperate with all investigations. No employee will be subjected to retaliation, intimidation or disciplinary action as a result of reporting a threat in good faith under this policy.

If the Company determines, after an appropriate good faith investigation, that someone has violated this policy, the Company will take swift and appropriate corrective action.

If an employee is the recipient of a threat made by an outside party, that employee should follow the steps detailed in this section. It is important for us to be aware of any potential danger in our offices. Indeed, we want to take effective measures to protect everyone from the threat of a violent act by an employee or by anyone else.