Who addresses complaints of workplace violence?

I have a question regarding workplace violence: Whose responsibility is it to address a potentially violent worker-a co-worker or the management?
My friend works in a nursing home, and one of her co-workers has made direct threatening remarks to her. He has also made general remarks like "I could shoot up this whole place with a gun in a minute." He apparently has spent time in a mental institution in the past. When my friend complained, she was told to address her concerns directly to her co-worker and not call the police yet. She was frightened of this man, and did not follow up. He threatened another person, who blew him in again. This time the agency had an inservice on workplace violence that was mandatory, and put this man on conditional employment(no one knows what the conditions are.) He now goes around saying "I cannot talk about guns, I am on conditional employment."(!) The workplace is still very tense, with a lot of nervous staff. Does the workplace have any responsibilities beyond what they did? or does one have to wait for an "incident" to occur?

1 answer  |  asked Jun 26, 2003 11:07 AM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
Workplace Violence

The short answer is that no one agency has a clear mandate to address workplace violence.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administtration (OSHA), a federal agency, has done some work in the area, but their mandate is workplace safety, not workplace violence. Violence of course goes to the question of safety but it is not a direct connection, so that I doubt that OSHA would act very quickly, if at all, if an employee filed a complaint going to workplace violence.

The Workers' Compensation Board would address situation where a worker was injured or killed as a result of a violent incident at work. But they would address compensation for injuries resulting from workplace violence. They have no mandate to prevent workplace violence before injury takes place.

The local police and district attorney's office might be of help, but only if the conduct rises to a criminal level, and only if they feel they can gather enough proof to obtain a conviction. I would expect that they would be very reluctant to get involved at all.

If the source of the violence connected his threats to the covered protected classifications, then maybe an agency such as the NY State Division of Human Rights or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission might be of help. But their mandate is to address certain forms of discrimination (such as discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, sex and disability) and not workplace violence. In addition, like the Workers' Compensation Board, they would more than likely address the issue only after the fact, that is, after the threats and violence have become a problem. They are not likely to act to prevent workplace violence.

The most likely source of prospective relief, that is, relief before damage is done, is the employer. Unless we are dealing with a civil service situation or a union situation, the employer can terminate the violent employee immediately and without notice. The employer need not build a case. The claims of employees that there have been threats of violence is alone enough to justify termination, if justification is needed. Remember, in New York State, most employees work at will. So, a justification really isn't necessary to fire the problem employee.

The only complication that I can imagine is if the problem employee's behavior is a manifestation of a physical or mental disability. But even then I think chances are that the employer would have good grounds for terminating the problem employee, but how good would depend on the details of the situation.

If we are talking about a civil service situation, the problem employee would probably have certain procedural rights, but, as long as the employer has enough incentive, I believe the employer would be able to immediately remove the problem from the workplace, and eventual have that employee terminated.

If we are dealing with a union situation, the union would have the obligation to represent the problem employee, and the problem employee would have certain rights under the collective bargaining agreement. But I doubt that a collective bargaining agreement would preclude an employer from addressing the workplace violence. Te employer just may need the incentive.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Jun 26, 2003 5:47 PM [EST]

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