One the most important obligations that employers have is to provide a safe workplace and preventing workplace violence is at the top of the list. In fact, according to the federal OSHA, acts of violence are the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.
Sadly, there have been numerous incidents of workplace violence recently that have involved gun violence. These incidents have garnered significant media attention. Regardless of any employer’s personal views on how society should address gun violence, taking steps to prevent any form violence in the workplace—whether involving guns or not—is not debatable. It is not only a moral obligation, but also a legal one as both federal and Connecticut laws require every employer to provide a safe workplace.
Now is a good time for every employer to revisit their workplace policies and practices regarding workplace violence. Below is a checklist of some critical steps that employers should consider:
- Have a Written Policy. Every employer should have a written policy stating that workplace violence will not be tolerated. The policy should properly define what constitutes the “workplace” (e.g., parking lots, business trips, etc.) and provide diverse examples of violent behavior, including physical and verbal acts of violence (e.g., assault, threats, verbal harassment, etc.). The policy should state prohibit acts of workplace violence from any source including employees, customers/clients, vendors/contractors and visitors. And the policy should encourage employees to report their concerns utilizing a clear process for doing so and with assurance that employees will not be subject to retaliation.
- Investigate Claims of Violence. Employers must promptly and thoroughly investigate concerns or incidents of workplace violence, and in some cases, contact local authorities.
- Consider Criminal Background Checks For New Hires. Employers should strongly consider conducting criminal background checks for new hires. In doing so, employers must be mindful that the EEOC discourages employers from being overly aggressive in banning applicants with a criminal history. Instead, the EEOC encourages employers to make an individualized assessment of all the facts and circumstances in making a hiring decision.
- Ban Weapons in the Workplace. Employers have a right in Connecticut to ban weapons in the workplace.
- Review Workplace Practices and Physical Security Measures. Consider having an alarm system and specific policies and practices surrounding building access (e.g., electronic badges, tracking visitors and limiting workplace access for non-employees, use of surveillance cameras, communication system for emergencies, and well-lit perimeter and parking areas).
- Recognize Warning Signs. Be aware of some recognized warning signs (e.g., employees who excessively discuss weapons, appear despondent, and/or expresses anger), but not prejudge someone without an adequate basis.
- Employee Assistance Provider (EAP). Many employees are under a great deal of stress for a variety of reasons. Referring an employee to an EAP could be helpful in promoting employee mental health and wellness and addressing personal issues that could impact the workplace.
- Training. Provide training to key managers on the Company’s policy and tips for spotting and addressing incidents of workplace violence.
- Terminating a Potentially Volatile Employee. Employers who have a reasonable basis to believe that an employee may become violent should take extra security precautions, such as having a security firm present or putting local authorities on notice. In some cases, it may be prudent to conduct an employee meeting by video or phone.
While these points provide common guidance, each employer must evaluate their specific circumstances in determining the steps they should take to provide a safe workplace. To this end, it may be helpful to establish a committee to provide reasonable recommendations.
If you have questions about what you can do to improve your employee retention, contact a member of Carmody’s Labor & Employment team.
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This information is for educational purposes only to provide general information and a general understanding of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not establish any attorney-client relationship.