A revision to the Tennessee Workplace Violence Act has seen an unexpected use — to seek a temporary restraining order to prohibit a co-employee’s access to the workplace. The Tennessee Workplace Violence Act (Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-14-101) was amended in 2011 to allow any employer or employee who has suffered unlawful violence, or a credible threat of violence, which can reasonably be construed to have been carried out at the workplace, to seek a temporary restraining order or injunction prohibiting further unlawful violence, or threats of violence, by that individual, or the organization that individual is affiliated with, at the workplace.

The statute defines “unlawful violence” as assault, aggravated assault, stalking, intimidation, or extortion.

“Credible threat of violence” means a knowing and willful statement or course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the person is under threat of death or serious bodily injury and that is intended to, and that actually causes, a person to believe that the person is under threat of death or serious bodily injury.

“Course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose, including following or stalking an employee to or from the employee’s place of work, entering the workplace of an employee, following an employee during hours of employment, telephone calls to an employee, and correspondence with an employee, including, but not limited to, the use of the public or private mails, interoffice mail, facsimile or computer e-mail.

Finally, the Act provides, “Nothing in this chapter will be construed as expanding, diminishing, altering or modifying the duty, if any, of an employer to provide a safe workplace for employees and other persons.”

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have a standard regulating workplace violence, although the Agency has stated that it can utilize the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require employers to take feasible measures to protect employees from violence in the workplace where that constitutes a “recognized hazard.” Employers who must maintain OSHA logs (Form 300) also may have to enter on their logs occupational injuries and illnesses to employees resulting from workplace violence.

Employers should reexamine their employee handbook contents and policies for provisions that address workplace violence prevention and response. Employers are urged to make certain that their Human Resource or risk management professionals are aware of and properly respond to any complaints of workplace violence. In addition, employees should be informed about language and acts that are not appropriate in the workplace and the internal procedures to address complaints of such misconduct.