Everyone deserves to feel safe at work, but unfortunately, sometimes this does not happen. If you have experienced workplace violence, you may have been physically injured, emotionally traumatized, or concerned about future violence. You should know that you have rights, and an attorney with experience with workplace law can help you find the best solution for your situation.
Occupational/Workplace Violence by the Numbers
The CDC reports that in 2020, there were 20,050 private-industry workers in the US affected by non-fatal workplace violence. About 73 percent were women, and the majority (76 percent) worked in the healthcare or social assistance industries.
In the same year, there were 392 private-industry workplace homicides. About 81 percent of victims were men, and 30 percent were working in a retail or customer-service industry..
Types of Workplace Violence
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) places workplace violence in four categories:
- Type I: Criminal intent. The perpetrator usually has no legitimate business with the organization or its workers but enters the premises to commit a crime, such as a robbery or shoplifting. This type of workplace violence is less common in healthcare settings.
- Type II: Customer/client interactions that turn violent, also called client-on-worker violence. “Client” can refer to clients as well as healthcare patients, their family members, and their visitors. This is the most common type of violence in healthcare settings, but it can also occur in retail and other business situations. For instance, a customer might develop an unhealthy level of interest in a retail worker and proceed to stalk them, ultimately becoming violent.
- Type III: Violence between coworkers, or worker-on-worker violence. This includes not only physical violence but also emotional or verbal abuse, and all types of bullying. Frequently the perpetrator is a supervisor or someone in a position of power over the victim. However, peer-to-peer violence also occurs.
- Type IV: Personal relationship violence. In these situations, the perpetrator usually has a personal relationship with the victim and follows them to work to commit an act of violence. For example, an abusive spouse may follow a victim to their job and assault or kill them.
How to Prevent Workplace Violence
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends identifying risk factors and creating a prevention plan based on those factors.
Here are some higher-risk factors to be aware of:
- Any business where money is exchanged with the public (retail, gas stations, banks, etc.) is at higher risk of workplace violence, especially Type I.
- Delivery drivers are at increased risk of violence.
- Healthcare workers, public service workers, law enforcement, and customer service agents are also at a higher risk.
- People who work alone or in isolated areas have an increased risk.
- Working at night or at odd hours may also increase the risk of violence, especially Type I, as burglars often plan to strike when few employees or other people are around.
Creating a plan to prevent violence in the workplace may look different from one setting to another, but employee training is usually essential in any organization. Examples include:
- Retail and customer service workers should be trained in de-escalation techniques for situations where a customer becomes irate or threatening. There should also be a plan to call for help from coworkers or contact 911 when needed.
- Businesses at a high risk of robberies or other Type I violence should have security measures in place – security cameras, a “silent alarm” button to alert the security company and local authorities if a robbery happens, bulletproof windows around the cash register area, etc.
- Having a zero-tolerance policy for any and all workplace violence is essential to reduce the risk of Type III violence.
- Organizations should establish a policy to prohibit and punish any instances of employee harassment. This includes sexual harassment or general harassment, and it applies to both employees and customers/clients/vendors/outside parties. In other words, you should not tolerate a customer harassing an employee any more than you would tolerate an employee harassing another worker.
- Ensure that employees feel comfortable communicating when a person or situation has made them uncomfortable, and make it clear how to do so – contact HR, speak with a manager, etc.
- Businesses open to the public should take appropriate security measures. The specifics may vary depending on the business and its level of traffic. Some examples might include having a sufficient number of security guards on duty during open hours, using bright lighting in parking lots, having enough security cameras to cover all areas (including parking lots), etc.
- If your business exchanges cash with the public, you should limit how much money is kept on hand at any given time. Many computerized cash register systems can be programmed to provide a warning any time a certain amount of cash in the drawer is reached. When this occurs, a manager on duty should remove the excess cash and make a bank deposit. Having a sign that indicates the store keeps “less than X dollars in cash” can also help to discourage robbers.
What to Do If You Have Experienced Workplace Violence
Your first concern should be your safety. Follow any workplace protocols for dealing with an outside offender and contact the authorities as needed. Try to remember the perpetrator’s description and any information that might help law enforcement track them down.
Type I and II violence is often easier to understand and respond to because everyone in the workplace understands an outside threat. Type III violence is frequently more challenging, for multiple reasons. Sometimes the perpetrator is a boss or supervisor. You may be afraid to report what happened for fear of retaliation, such as being fired or further violence.Further,, you may have reported an incident to Human Resources, but no action was taken. Some people tell us that a Human Resource representative did not believe them or did not take steps to punish the offender. Additionally, if you work for a smaller company without a Human Resource department or official policies, you may find that your only option is reporting your supervisor to your supervisor.
Such situations as the worker-worker or worker-supervisor can be very difficult, but you have a right not to feel afraid at work. If you experience workplace violence, we encourage you to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an attorney with experience in this field of workplace violence and workplace policies and procedures. The attorney can advise you of your rights and the options you may have for your particular situation.
If you suffered an injury due to workplace violence, you may have a right to Worker’s Compensation benefits if you can prove your job led to an “actual risk” of violence. For example, workers who handle cash are at increased risk of suffering violence during a robbery. Virginia law also provides Workers Compensation coverage for people who are sexually assaulted by a coworker or employer.
It is often advisable to report workplace violence to the police – do not trust your boss to do so. If your supervisor discourages you from calling the authorities and you are not comfortable calling from work, contact the police after you clock out and leave. If you hope to receive Workers Compensation, it is important to report the incident right away (in writing, if possible) and see a doctor approved by your employer (the employer should provide you with a list of physicians) except in cases of emergency. Although the claims process should be simple, some people have difficulty getting their claim approved. An attorney with experience with worker’s compensation can help you fight for your right to benefits.