Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment, and that includes taking reasonable measures to ensure that violence stays outside the workplace gate. That’s one reason no employer should tolerate violence or threats against the company or its employees.
Your employee handbook should include “no violence” and “no threats” clauses, explaining that verified violence or threats mean immediate dismissal. Designate someone in HR to handle such incidents consistently and swiftly. As the following appeals court case shows, you don’t have to worry that a court will second-guess your decision if you can show you treat all employees who threaten or commit violence exactly the same.
Recent case: Albert Robinson, who is black, was fired when HR learned he had threatened to kill a co-worker. Robinson sued, alleging race discrimination. But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his case. It reasoned that making death threats is a legitimate reason for discharge and can’t be the basis for a race discrimination case unless there’s proof that someone not belonging to the same protected class got a “get out of jail free” pass for the same conduct. Robinson had no such proof. (Robinson v. Adventist Health Systems, No. 06-13828, 11th Cir., 2007)
Final note: Concerned about? You have good reason for that concern since about 10% of workplace deaths are directly attributable to violence. OSHA has extensive information on how to make your workplace safe, including specific information for industries that typically experience more violence than others, including health care and food service.
For further guidance, go to www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/solutions.html.
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