Workplace violence is an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at work. Workplace violence is a serious threat affecting around 2 million Americans each year. Additionally, around 703 Americans per year lose their lives due to workplace violence. This number has decreased by 8% since 2014. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines for dealing with workplace violence. And you have rights if you are injured by workplace violence. To learn more about workplace violence, read below:

1. How big a problem is workplace violence, and could it affect me?

Every year about 2 million American workers are victims of violence in the workplace. Workplace violence can range from verbal threats and abuse to physical attacks and homicide. Homicide is the leading cause of workplace death for women and the second leading cause of workplace death for all workers. Estimates show that up to 703 people a year are the victims of homicide in American workplaces.

Some workers are more vulnerable to workplace violence than others. For example, workplace violence against women is more prevalent than against men. Workers in the health care and social assistance industries are also vulnerable. Employees that work in the health care field are often victims of verbal attacks, physical attacks, and other forms of harassment. The highest rates of abuse are against nurses and nursing aides because they spend a lot of time with patients.

Workers who handle money or have contact with the public while working alone are more at risk for violence. These occupations include:

  • Cashiers
  • Convenience store attendants
  • Taxi drivers
  • Postal workers
  • Anyone working alone in a high crime area
  • Other similar professions

This is not a complete list, and it is important to remember that no workplace or worker is immune to violence.

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2. What is my employer required to do to protect me from violence in the workplace?

Employers can reduce the likelihood of violence in the workplace by assessing their work site. There is currently no official OSHA standard for workplace violence. But, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released guidelines for dealing with workplace violence. For example, OSHA recommends guidelines for violence protection programs at night retail establishments. If an employer fails to follow these guidelines it does not make them automatically responsible if there is an attack. While state laws may vary, OSHA has not set any specific standards for workplace violence. Workers are somewhat protected by the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all covered employees. OSHA may cite an employer for failing to protect their employees from a recognized violence hazard in the workplace.

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3. What can I do to protect myself from violence in the workplace?

Your best protection from violence is to report concerns about safety and suspicious persons, including coworkers. If you see something concerning, report it to your supervisor immediately. You can help prevent workplace violence by attending personal safety training programs. Safety programs will teach you to prevent and diffuse violent situations. You can talk with your employer about implementing zero-tolerance policies on workplace violence. You may also work with your employer on a workplace violence prevention program.

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4. Are employees allowed to carry guns in the workplace?

No law specifically prohibits possession of a firearm in a workplace. But employers may create policies restricting the possession of firearms in the workplace. The owners of leased property where a business operates may also restrict the possession of firearms on the property. Employers must notify their employees of these restrictions in clear and legible terms.

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5. What should my employer do to start a workplace violence prevention program?

According to OSHA, an effective workplace violence prevention program could include:

  • A specific plan, tailored to the industry, for workplace security.
  • A worksite analysis of risk factors, past incidents, security, and safety audits.
  • Solutions to known environmental hazards, including, adequate lighting, video surveillance, drop safes and barriers to protect employees.
  • Training for employees, security personnel, and supervisors.
  • Record keeping of all incidents, policy recommendations, notes from safety meetings, and evaluations of the effectiveness of current safety plans.

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6. What should I do if I am the victim of violence in the workplace?

If you have been threatened at your workplace, or have been the victim of physical violence at work, report it immediately to your supervisor and detail the incident in writing. If your supervisor or employer does not act, or the threat of further violence is serious, report it to the local police. If you feel that you were the victim of violence because your employer violated the general duty to provide a safe workplace, you can file a complaint with OSHA.

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7. Is my employer responsible for a violent act committed against me?

Employers are not automatically liable for violent acts committed by their employees. However, if your employer could have or should have known that one of their employees had violent tendencies, they may be liable for injuries caused by that employee. Workers compensation laws require employers to pay for injuries suffered by an employee on the job. Furthermore, employers are required by OSHA to provide a safe work environment for their employees.

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8. Where can I get further information about the prevention of workplace violence?

OSHA provides guidelines for late-night retail establishments, health care, and social service industries. OSHA also provides general information about workplace violence. For guidelines or other OSHA publications on workplace violence, visit the OSHA website.

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9. Are there bullying laws?

No. However, if you have been wronged by a workplace bully, you may want to consult an attorney about bringing suit for a similar reason, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress or assault. Taking legal action is easier if you have maintained documentation of the offenses through a journal or series of memos.

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