Workplace violence is a serious safety and health issue. While no federal law specifically addresses violence in the workplace, several laws impose a duty on employers to maintain a safe workplace.
For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) imposes a general duty on all employers to provide employees with a workplace that is free from hazards. Federal civil rights laws also require employers to keep the workplace free from threats of violence, and state workers’ compensation laws make employers responsible for certain injuries sustained workplace.
In California, the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (COSH Act) also places a duty on employers to provide employees with a safe workplace. In addition, the California Workplace Violence Safety Act (CWVS Act) allows employers to seek a temporary restraining order or injunction against anyone who poses a threat in the workplace.
EMPLOYERS’ OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE A SAFE WORKPLACE
The COSH Act makes employers primarily responsible for the safety and health of their employees. Under this law, employers must:
• Establish, implement and maintain an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, and periodically update it (for help in establishing an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, visit the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s website);
• Inspect the workplace to identify and correct unsafe and hazardous conditions;
• Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment, and properly maintain the tools and equipment;
• Use color codes, posters, labels or signs to warn employees of potential hazards; and
• Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.
California courts impose further obligations by requiring employers to hire and train their employees properly. An employer that does not adequately hire, train or supervise its employees may be sued in court and held liable for damages if it knew or should have known the employee would subject a coworker, customer or third party to an unreasonable risk of harm.
Required Workplace Posting
The COSH Act requires employers to hang a “Safety and Health Protection on the Job” poster in a prominent place where employees can see it in the workplace. The poster informs employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law. Employers must post at least one in each establishment. Employers must also take steps to ensure that the signs are readable and not altered or defaced.
A Spanish version of the Cal/OSHA required poster is also available. In addition, other approved safety posters may be found on the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s website.
TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDERS OR INJUNCTIONS
The CWVSA allows an employer to seek a temporary restraining order or injunction against anyone who poses a threat to the workplace if an employee suffers unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence. Under the CWVS Act:
• Unlawful Violence is any assault, battery or stalking, but does not include lawful acts of self-defense or defense of others; and
• A Credible Threat of Violence is a knowing and willful statement or course of conduct that would place a reasonable person in fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family, and that serves no legitimate purpose.
A temporary restraining order or injunction obtained under the CWVS Act may include an order prohibiting a person from taking any of the following actions against an employee:
• Sexually assaulting;
• Telephoning, including making annoying telephone calls;
• Destroying personal property;
• Contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise;
• Coming within a specified distance;
• Disturbing the peace; or
• Any other specified behavior that the court determines is necessary.
WORKPLACE VIOLENCE PLAN IMPLEMENTATION FOR EMPLOYERS
California law requires employers to keep employees free from harm in the workplace. Employers may be liable for incidents of workplace violence under both federal and state law for failure to provide employees with a safe workplace.
Employers can create a workplace violence plan to outline policies and processes that can help prevent workplace violence. If an employer elects to have a workplace violence plan, the plan will be most effective if it is tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of the employer. It should take into account the resources available to the employer to enact and maintain the program.
A workplace violence policy may include the following items:
• A statement of the employer’s workplace violence policy and its relation to other policies the employer has enacted;
• Standard practices to address workplace violence or threats of violence;
• Designation and training of an incident response team;
• Clearly stated disciplinary procedures designed to prevent violent behavior in the workplace;
• Procedures for workplace violence that will handle all levels of violence;
• Reference to sources outside of the workplace that employees may consult to deal with workplace violence; and
• An effective training program to inform employees of the workplace violence policy.
For more information on workplace violence, contact Warren G. Bender Co. or visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website or the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s website.