Workplace Violence Examined (Part I)

Kelly Scott Esq.
September 26, 2013 — 1,043 views  

What can employers do to prevent workplace violence? Unfortunately, we have learned a lot about violence, but we can use that knowledge to our advantage. In order for an employer to implement preventative measures, it must first understand workplace violence itself, both in terms of the types of violent acts that can occur as well as the risk factors associated with the various types of workplace violence. According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), there are four types of workplace violence. The categories are as follows:

Type I: Criminal Intent. Violent acts committed by people who have entered the workplace to commit a robbery or other crime. Although these acts can be committed by current or former employees, the acting agent typically has no legitimate business relationship with the workplace and enters the affected workplace specifically to commit a criminal act;

Type II: Customer/Client/Patients. Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, passengers, inmates, prisoners and others to whom the employer provides a service;

Type III: Co-Worker. Violence against co-workers, supervisors or managers committed by a current or former employee, manager or supervisor; and

Type IV: Personal. Violence in the workplace committed by a non-employee who has a relationship with an employee. This usually involves an assault of a current employee, supervisor or manager by a current or former spouse, lover, relative or friend or some other person who has a dispute with an employee of the affected workplace.

OSHA can also tell us who is at risk. High-risk industries include healthcare and social services settings, such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, home health agencies, alcohol and drug treatment providers and social welfare service providers. In addition, small, late-night retail establishments are considered to be high-risk establishments. Schools where students have a history of violent behavior and certain other types of service providers such as justice system personnel, customer service representatives and delivery personnel are also frequently at risk.

Type I events often occur during the commission of a robbery when an employee or proprietor is killed or injured. These events typically occur at small, late-night retail venues, but no retail store is immune from the possibility of a robbery. Retail robberies usually occur between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and are most often carried out by persons armed with a gun or knife. Additional factors that put retail employees at risk include the exchange of money and availability of valued items such as jewelry, 24-hour operation, solo or isolated work sites, the sale of alcohol and poorly lit stores and parking areas. Among small, late-night retail establishments, liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores are common targets.

Type I events represent the most common type of fatal workplace violence event, but Type II events involving victims who provide services to the public are increasing. In addition, non-fatal Type II events involving assaults to service providers, particularly within the healthcare industry, may represent the most prevalent category of workplace violence resulting in physical injury. However, any business working with patients, clients, passengers, customers or students known or suspected to have a history of violence is at risk.

More common Type II assaults are inflicted upon public safety and correctional personnel, transportation providers, teachers, sales personnel and others who work in the public or private service sector who provide professional, public safety, administrative or business services to the public. According to Cal/OSHA, Type I events represent irregular occurrences in the life of any particular at-risk establishment, while Type II events can occur on a more regular basis in many service establishments and therefore represent a more pervasive risk for such service providers.

Type III and Type IV events are often more difficult to understand and may, at first, defy reasonable explanation. While these type of events attract significant media attention, they are actually less common in occurrence than Type I or Type II events. Type III or Type IV events usually involve a single employee, supervisor or manager as the primary target of the assailant. The individual is often seeking revenge for what he or she perceives as unfair treatment by such person or persons. Employees with a history of assault or who have exhibited belligerent, intimidating or threatening behavior to others are among the risk factors for a Type III event. Although Type III and Type IV events can lead to fatalities, the most prevalent type of event usually involves threats or other types of verbal harassment.

Every employer should perform an initial assessment to identify workplace security factors that might contribute to violence in the workplace. Once an employer understands the types of violence that can occur and the risk factors involved, the next step is to consider preventative measures.

Kelly Scott Esq.

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

Kelly Scott is head of ECJ’s Employment Law Department. He is a published author, frequent speaker and has over 25 years of experience litigating employment matters for his clients, including wage and hour, wrongful termination, and harassment.