The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Anyone can be a victim of this form of violence, from employees to customers to clients to visitors. In recent studies, OSHA found that an average of nearly 2 million U.S. workers have reported being a victim of violence at work. Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the number of annual workplace homicides to be around 400.
Recognizing workplace violence or harassment, reporting, and taking legal action can be some of the best methods to protect yourself, coworkers, and customers. Workplace violence is classified into the following four categories:
- Criminal Intent
- Personal Relationship
#1: Criminal Intent
This form of workplace violence involves a perpetrator who has no legitimate relationship to the employee’s business. The perpetrator may be robbing, shoplifting, trespassing, or committing an act of terrorism that turns violent.
Examples of criminal intent may include:
- A store cashier held at gun point while a person steals money
- A nurse being assaulted in the hospital parking lot
- A company vehicle being stolen
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) reports that robbery is the most common reason for work-related homicide. Additionally, workers who exchange cash, work alone, or work night shifts are at a higher risk.
Victims of criminal intent at their workplace can seek legal help and representation through an attorney. Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees. Providing safety training, policies, regulations, and other procedures are an employer’s responsibility. If your experience was a result of employer negligence or a violation of your company’s physical security policy, a seasoned attorney may be able to form a case against your employer. For example, if a supervisor continues to overlook employee reports of unlocked doors, suspicious activity, broken security cameras, etc. victims of criminal intent may have a claim against their employer. Employer negligence can lead to property damage, loss, theft, illness, injury, or wrongful death, and you may be entitled to recovery for medical costs, emotional distress, and other damages from workplace violence.
In this form of harassment and violence, the perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent during the course of service offerings. Customer/client violence takes place when a customer, inmate, patient, or student becomes violent with the person serving them, such as a waiter, prison guard, doctor, or instructor. Employees working in the healthcare industry are at the highest risk of customer/client violence.
Examples of customer/client violence may include:
- A patient hits a nurse while being examined
- A customer at a restaurant becomes aggressive and argues with the employees
- A flight attendant is physically assaulted on a plane
Victims of emotional, psychological, and/or physical wounds from customer/client workplace violence do not have to go through their experience alone. Employees have the right to not be harassed in their workplace. This right includes protection against clients and customers in your workplace.
Failing to dismiss a violent and/or aggressive client and observe safety standards leaves the employer liable. Employers are responsible for providing safety training and taking necessary precautions as needed for the safety of employees. An example may look like providing reasonable restraints for a patient that exhibits a history of violent behavior in a hospital setting.
Overlooking employee concerns and reports of customer/client violence can establish a pattern of negligence that violates employee rights. Additionally, if employees were punished for reporting an incident through wage reduction, hour cuts, and other forms of discrimination, the employer may be held liable for their actions. However, if the employer was unaware of customer/client harassment and workers failed to report these issues, the employer cannot be held responsible.
Worker-on-worker violence, also known as lateral or horizontal violence, is when the perpetrator has employment-related involvement with the workplace. This typically involves assault by a current or former employee. Worker-on-worker violence is often directed at employees who are seen as “lower on the food chain.”
Examples of worker-on-worker violence may include:
- An employee believes they are being treated unfairly by management and lashes out violently
- An employee is spreading rumors about another worker around the office
- An employee sexually assaults another worker and threatens their employment
Worker-on-worker harassment and violence also includes workplace discrimination. Laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protect you from employment discrimination against your “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (40 or older), or genetic information.”
Examples of workplace discrimination may include:
- Unwelcome comments about gender identity
- Pressure for dates or sexual favors
- Racial jokes or ethnic slurs
- Offensive graffiti, cartoons, or pictures
For more information and examples of workplace discrimination, visit the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) workplace fact sheets page. You have the right to work in an environment free of worker-on-worker violence, harassment, and discrimination. Reach out to an attorney for help filing a lawsuit and issuing appropriate protection orders to keep you safe.
If you are a victim of worker-on-worker violence and/or workplace discrimination, you can take legal action against your coworker and/or employer. The EEOC enforces laws that protect employee rights to work free of discrimination and harassment.
If experiencing harassment or violence at your workplace, you may consult with an attorney to file a civil lawsuit for physical and/or mental distress to recover damages. You may also sue your employer for negligence. Your employer may have failed to do proper background checks on a potentially dangerous worker. Your employer may have also failed to monitor the actions taken by employees and/or dismissed multiple reports of workplace violence and harassment. Depending on the case, you may be entitled to medical, income, and additional benefits for injuries sustained in the workplace.
If you’ve experienced workplace discrimination, you may file a lawsuit against your employer for violations of your rights. This also applies to all types of job decisions that include firing, hiring, promotions, training, wages, and benefits. Further information can be found through employee rights protected by the EEOC.
#4: Personal Relationship
Personal relationship workplace violence involves a perpetrator who does not have a relationship with the business itself, but rather with the victim employed at the business. This form of violence is the most difficult to prevent in workplaces that are accessible to the public during business hours. Retail businesses or businesses with one location cannot transfer employees who are being threatened.
Examples of personal relationship violence may include:
- An ex-spouse attempts to physically harm their partner in their workplace
- A spouse follows their partner to work and threatens them
- An ex-partner repeatedly calls the receptionist’s office to threaten them and ask coworkers about the receptionist’s daily routine
Personal relationship harassment at the workplace puts your safety and your coworkers’ safety at risk. You have the right to a harassment-free work environment. When personal relationship harassment or violence occurs, an attorney can help you determine the legal steps to protect your safety and wellbeing from the perpetrator.
In personal relationship workplace harassment and violence, a “No Contact Order” can be enforced to prevent contact between you and your harasser. You may also put in place a civil protection order. This prevents the harasser from using a third party to contact you.
You may also have the option to sue your employer for negligence. In personal relationship harassment, your employer may have failed to make proper reports to authorities, observe proper safety standards, or train workers on safety procedures. If accounts of personal relationship violence and/or harassment in the workplace were dismissed by your employer, you may have a claim against them.
What to Do if You Experience Workplace Violence
Anyone can be susceptible to workplace violence. Being the victim of workplace violence can negatively affect your emotional well-being, physical health, and work satisfaction/productivity. The first step is to identify the workplace violence you are experiencing and to act against it.
- Document what is happening to you. Keep notes and records on what was said, who was involved, witnesses, and other information about the event(s). Be sure to also save emails, text messages, handwritten notes, and other documentation about the harassment.
- Report workplace violence. If you feel comfortable and safe to address the harasser, you can explain to them how their actions are making you feel. In some cases, the harasser may be unaware of how uncomfortable they are making others and will stop inappropriate behaviors when brought to their attention.
However, some situations may be too dangerous for you to address yourself. Additionally, some harassers are well aware of their behavior and have no intention to stop. In this case, reporting workplace violence to your supervisor or your company’s human resources department is the next step. If possible, provide all evidence you have collected.
- Take action outside of the workplace. If you determine that your employer has not properly resolved workplace violence, you can file a charge with the EEOC to request remedial action.
You can also speak to an attorney to take legal action against workplace violence. An attorney can help you identify the legal options you have to protect yourself against the violence and/or harassment you are experiencing.
You do not have to report workplace violence to your employer before filing a charge with the EEOC or taking legal action. Workplace violence is a misconduct you should not stay silent about.
Taking Legal Action Against Workplace Violence
Workplace violence affects many individuals in the U.S. By recognizing the signs, reporting, and taking legal action as necessary, this form of violence can be minimized.
May, Rammell & Wells can help you take legal action against workplace violence and other forms of civil abuse. Whether you are the victim of physical, verbal, digital, and/or any other forms of harassment or violence, you should not hesitate to take legal action to protect your safety and well-being.
Experiencing workplace violence can leave you feeling frightened and stressed. If you are a victim of workplace violence, reach out to May, Rammell & Wells to schedule a consultation. You deserve to feel safe in your work environment.
Call today at (208) 623-8021 or contact us online to learn more about your legal options.