Issue: How much oversight should your organization exert on supervisors who handle potentially violent situations?
Risk: Letting one misguided supervisor call the shots can cause an employee to claim you intentionally caused him or her harm.
Action: Provide supervisors with clear instructions on how to handle explosive situations, then follow up on their compliance.
You know your organization must take reasonable steps to protect employees from potential violence at work. But now, as the following case shows, employees could prove you intentionally brought harm against them if you let one misguided supervisor call the shots in a potentially dangerous situation.
Recent case: A female security guard notified her employer that she had obtained a court order barring her ex-boyfriend from contacting her. Despite that, her supervisor forwarded calls from the ex-boyfriend, assigned the guard to an outside post and allowed the ex-boyfriend access to her.
The boyfriend kidnapped her at gunpoint, held her captive for six hours and assaulted her. The supervisor delayed calling the police for 10 minutes after the kidnapping, saying they should have time to talk it out. The employee sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress and won. (Gantt v. Security USA Inc., No. 03-1033, 4th Cir., 2004)
Lessons: Establish rules that ban outsiders from your work site and draft procedures to deal with emergencies. If you become aware of a specific risk, provide clear instructions to supervisors, security staff and anyone with a need to know. Failing to police your supervisors in such situations could open your organization to further liability.
In potentially dangerous situations, regularly check with the affected employee and his or her supervisor, listening for complaints. If a supervisor isn't following orders, deal with it immediately.
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