Your workplace is supposed to be your second home. Ideally, your colleagues should be your second family, too. Of course, no organization is perfect, but at worst, politics and gossip should be the only things keeping full unity from happening. If violence enters the picture, though, the organization won’t just be divided but fearing for their lives as well.
Violence isn’t just physical assault. Verbal abuse and harassment may count as one, too. And cases aren’t limited within the walls of a workplace. Field workers can experience violence, too. Sometimes, an employee could just be buying food outside the office when a perpetrator injures them.
What can employers and victims do in those situations? Here are the ways they handle different cases of workplace violence:
1. Violence by Customers
Service workers are all too familiar with rude customers. Almost all of them have experienced being shouted or cursed at least once. The policy that the customer is always right creates legal loopholes that put assaulted or harassed workers at a disadvantage. Worse, if their employers themselves tolerate the customer’s violent behavior, then the workers are left to just deal with it.
Unfortunately, the common way employers handle such incidents is by reprimanding both the attacker and the attacked employee. Sometimes, they’d even dismiss the employee to mitigate their possible liability.
If this incident happens in your workplace, you shouldn’t let your employees get the shorter end of the stick if they didn’t provoke outrage from a customer. For example, if your employee tells a customer that a certain product or service is unavailable, that shouldn’t elicit violence at all. If the customer insults your employee because they didn’t get what they want, step in and defend your employee.
Call the cops if the customer’s outrage has become out of control. If they hit your employee, you can hold them liable for battery. Battery is any unwelcome touching, like punching, pulling one’s hair, etc. Being charged with battery makes the attacker liable for the damages they caused, such as injuries, lost wages due to those injuries, and medical treatment.
2. Co-workers Engaging in Violence
Things can get heated at work when two colleagues always have clashing opinions. They can take their differences personally and escalate their feud into a full-blown brawl or shouting match.
If it’s just a shouting match, witnesses can give you an account of who started it. Gather evidence from those witnesses as well as a written report from the involved parties. From there, your HR manager can set consequences, which may not include pressing charges.
If a physical assault is involved, the HR or victim may not press charges either. Instead, your business may be subject to vicarious liability. It means you can be held liable for the actions of your employee, whether they attacked a co-worker or a civilian.
Cases of vicarious liability are taken to court. The court decides if vicarious liability applies by considering if the incident was caused by a worker during “the course of their employment.” Simply put: if the attack happened while they were working. For example, if a forklift driver runs over a co-worker, vicarious liability will likely apply. If the injured worker suffers brain damage because of the incident, an experienced brain injury lawyer will advise that you cover their treatment. On the other hand, if a worker spills a drink on another worker during lunch hour, vicarious liability won’t likely apply.
3. Patient Violence
The healthcare industry is also plagued with violence. In fact, healthcare workers were found to be at risk for violence almost as much as military and police officers were. And sadly, assaulted health workers report that little is being done to help them.
To top it all off, a significant number of cases involve firearms. Mental health settings are also prone to any kind of violence, with 70% of its staff members being physically assaulted every year.
A solid solution to this isn’t found yet because more research is needed to deter attacks in the first place. But healthcare administrators aren’t powerless at all. They can implement policies that allow doctors and other medical staff to reprimand violent patients. They can also install metal detectors on main entrances to bar anyone with a firearm from entering.
Advocating for changes in the law, such as making attacks on healthcare workers a felony case, will help too.
For something so common, workplace violence is surprisingly mishandled often. Be the employer who will change this by defending your workers’ rights and safety. Set boundaries with your customers, and don’t let legal loopholes make the attackers win. The only time to demand responsibility from your employee is if they were the ones who caused the incident.