While Minnesota employers have a general common law obligation to protect employees from co-workers who may do them harm, so-called negligent retention doesn’t require employers to predict who may turn violent. That’s even true when an employee has been verbally threatening.
Recent case: Mark didn’t get along with a co-worker. One day, that co-worker got angry and kicked Mark in the groin while wearing steel-toed shoes.
Mark sued, alleging that the employer was responsible for his injuries because it had ignored the co-worker’s past behavior and therefore had negligently retained him.
The company had disciplined the co-worker with a warning for “inappropriate conduct” and “potential violence in the workplace” issues, stemming from verbal altercations with co-workers. Mark claimed that the co-worker had threatened to kill someone and made comments suggesting that he thought people in prison should be shot. The man allegedly said he wanted to become a police officer so he could shoot someone.
But the court said that while the co-worker might have behaved angrily in the past, and had perhaps made generally threatening comments, that was not enough to place a reasonable employer on notice that he had truly violent propensities. Plus, the threat to kill someone wasn’t reported to anyone inuntil after the kick. The court dismissed Mark’s claim. (Schaefer v. Cargill Kitchen Solutions, No. A16-0154, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2016)
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