California employers, is your workplace violence policy up to date? Are you taking all the measures you can to safeguard the workplace from a fatality connected to workplace violence? What follows is some information on high-risk industries, types of workplace violence, and preventative measures.

Why is Workplace Violence Such a Big Issue?

Statistics show that annual nearly two million American workers are victims of workplace violence. It is one of the leading four causes of fatalities over the past 15 years in the workplace. Based on the information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industries with the highest propensity for workplace violence includes retail, financial industry, food and hospitality, and health care. Based on the Bureau’s data the approximate percentages of workplace violence fatalities are:

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In 2013, there were approximately 383 fatalities because of workplace violence. Out of the 383, 322 were shootings, 38 were stabbings and 21 were general altercations. In 2013, there were 43 workplace violence homicides just in California.

Women are more prone to workplace violence homicides. The Bureau’s data shows that homicides involving women have increased from 7 percent to 13 percent in-between 2010 and 2013. In 2001, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reported that 40% of all women related workplace deaths were workplace violence homicides. More than a quarter of female fatalities due to violence occurred by people the victims knew.

Types of workplace violence

There are four types of workplace violence.

  • Criminal intent violence
  • Customer or client violence
  • Employee on employee violence
  • Individual relationship violence

Some types of workplace violence are more prone in specific industries.

1. Criminal Intent Violence

Criminal Intent Violence is violence that occurs when the perpetrator has no business relationship with the worksite. This is most common in the retail trade, financial industry, and food establishments. Essentially these are crimes like robbery, trespassing, shoplifting, and terrorism. Majority of workplace violence falls into this category. Approximately 85% of all workplace violence incidents relate to criminal intent workplace violence.

Some examples of high-risk positions with criminal intent violence are grocery or retail store clerks, bank tellers, jewelry store clerks, and food establishment service employees. Just last week, on May 26, 2015, an individual walked into a large, well-known retail store in North Dakota a few minutes before 1 am and randomly shot at employees, injuring two. That same night, an armed gunman robbed a downtown sandwich shop in downtown Stockton. The robber fatally shot an employee working that night before he escaped.

2. Customer Client Violence

This category includes an individual that has a legitimate relationship with the worksite. Usually the person is a customer, client, patient, student, inmate, or any other group for which the business provides services. The types of industries that most commonly have this type of violence are health care and protective service operations. This policy discusses injuries sustained to health care workers by patients and/or relatives of patients and injuries sustained to law enforcement by lawbreakers and inmates.

Last year, Senator Padilla initiated Senate Bill 1299, which proposed to enact California Labor Code Section 6401.8, which requires hospitals to establish workplace violence plans to evaluate violent threats and analyze security systems, security personnel, risks associated with certain departments, uncontrolled areas, late night shifts, and parking areas. This bill originated after two separate stabbings in Los Angeles county hospitals and a shooting in a Daly City hospital. In both occasions, the parties were visiting the hospital to see a patient. The bill also discusses the injuries sustained by other health care professionals while treating patients with various mental conditions like dementia, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Bill essentially requires California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to create a regulation, which requires acute care and psychiatric hospitals to include workplace violence policies in their injury and illness prevention plans. The plan must include: (1) a definition of workplace violence (including physical force or use of a firearm and weapon); (2) training policies for employees that have direct contact with patients on how to recognize potential for violence, how to report violent acts to law enforcement, and other hospital resources available to employees; and (3) and a requirement that the plan be effective at all times in all patient care units, including inpatient settings and outpatient clinics. The bill also requires: (1) a system for responding to and investigating violent incidents, (2) a system to improve upon factors that contribute or prevent violence,(3) staffing patterns and patient classifications that contribute to violence, (4) analysis of security systems, alarms, and emergency response, (5) identification of security risks associated with specific units, (6) temporary personnel training, (7) an anti-retaliation clause of complaining about workplace violence safety concerns, and (8) a retention policy for keeping documents for five years. The bill requires Cal/OSHA to obtain records of all violent incidents from hospitals and post on its website the information collected.

3. Employee on Employee Violence

This type of workplace violence occurs when a current or past employee attacks or threatens another employee. Approximately 7% of all workplace violence is employee on employee violence. This type of violence can occur in any workplace.

We have seen California taking a stronger stride to eliminate this type of violence by initializing a new workplace anti-bullying law for private sector employees called Assembly Bill 2053. This bill requires employers with 50 or more employees that already provide training on preventing sexual harassment to include a new training on preventing “abusive conduct” in the workplace to supervisory employees. Abusive conduct means conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interest. Under this new requirement, we may see Cal/OSHA take a stronger stance against employers for preventing workplace bullying because bullying may include physical contact and/or may lead to physical altercations and workplace violence.

This type of workplace bullying/violence can result in a lack of productivity of workers or increased absenteeism, loss of morale, large numbers of turnover of workers, bad public and media coverage, and additional litigation and legal claims including Cal/OSHA citations, negligent hiring, respondeat superior claims, intentional infliction of emotional distress, hostile work environment, and whistleblower claims. Employers should immediately take action and discipline any individual who bullies a co-worker.

4. Individual Relationship Violence

Individual relationship violence is a type of violence that involves an outsider that has a personal relationship with an employee, who is an intended victim. Most routinely, these are domestic violence situations, gang situations, or other familial issues. This type of violence makes up approximately 5% of all workplace violence situations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics did an assessment and determined that 21% of full time employees are victims of domestic violence. Seventy-five percent of domestic violence perpetrators use the workplace to harass, intimidate, stalk, express anger, or injure a victim. California has two active processes to aid victims of this type of violence. California provides domestic violence victim leave and the Workplace Violence Safety Act.

Under California Labor Code 230, it is illegal for an employer to discharge, discriminate, or retaliate against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking for taking time off from work to obtain or attempt to obtain any relief. This includes, but is not limited to that the employer allow an employee to take time off for obtaining a temporary restraining order, restraining order, or file a police report for himself or herself or his or her child. The employee may provide the employer with certification in the form of a police report, court order, medical professional note or domestic violence or sexual abuse counselor. Additionally, an employer shall provide reasonable accommodations for a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking whom requests an accommodation for his or her safety while at work and must engage in a timely, good faith, and interactive process with the employee to determine the effectiveness of these accommodations. Reasonable accommodations may include additional safety measures including a transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, additional locks, change in location, change work telephone number, or an adjustment of a workplace facility. If such an act results in workplace violence, an employer should tender all information regarding reasonable accommodations and discussions with the employee to Cal/OSHA.

One of the things an employer may have to do, as a reasonable accommodation is to obtain a restraining order on behalf of the employee pursuant to the Workplace Violence Safety Act. This Act is codified in California Civil Procedure Code Section 527.8. It allows for any employer whose employee has suffered an unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence from any individual that can reasonably be construed to be carried at the workplace, to seek a temporary restraining order and injunction on behalf of the employee and at the discretion of the court, any number of employees at the workplace. This type of order generally enjoins a party from harassing, intimidating, molesting attacking, striking, stalking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering, abusing, telephoning, contacting, destroying personal property, or coming within a specific distance of this person.

Preventative Actions

1. Watch for potential signs of workplace violence.

Look for changes in your employees. Train your managers on these signs including: looking for physical injuries, listening for threating remarks, strong depressive behavior, strong aggressive or hostile behavior, discussion of weapons or plans to hurt oneself.

2. Create a comprehensive written policy.

In your workplace violence policy, you should include several things:

  • A clear definition of workplace violence
  • A clear description of what will not be tolerated
  • A means of communicating regarding threats
  • A description of signs of workplace violence
  • A description of where to get information on emergency procedures relating to workplace violence
  • A mandatory training requirement that requires a periodic training for all employees on the Company’s workplace safety procedures and policy

3. Conduct hazard analyses.

  • Do a full evaluation of the facility its vulnerabilities
  • Ask whether the facility has enough security for the vicinity
  • Find out the criminal rate of the surrounding area
  • Determine whether there is sufficient lighting in all areas of the facility
  • Determine whether your facility needs an alarm system
  • Create a program for management to check the status of the alarm system
  • Identify what jobs are high risk (bank teller, emergency personnel, gas station clerks, armored vehicle security)
  • Develop an investigation procedure after an incident to evaluate what contributed to the incident, including who will be responsible for investigating and the timeline of the investigation, and how the Company will disclose its findings to employees

4. Conduct periodic employee training.

  • Train your employees on the facility and safety measures
  • Train your employees on how to detect signs of workplace violence
  • Train your employees on watching for unfamiliar or unwelcome visitors
  • Train your employees on complaint procedures and contact information for reporting information to management personnel

5. Create safety devices.

  • Create a safety plan regarding what to do if there is a violent incident in the facility including safe locations and how to exit the building safely
  • Create “safe rooms and train your employees on how to be safe if an incident occurs
  • Have a system for visitors to sign in and wear badges
  • Hire security personnel