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Toughen violence policy to avoid liability

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Preventing Workplace Violence

An off-duty employee confronted a co-worker at his desk and accused him of having an affair with his girlfriend. Two supervisors, suspecting the confrontation might turn violent, escorted both employees to the parking lot.

Although the supervisors knew the angry employee had a loaded handgun, they didn't call police. Instead, they tried to end the situation by ordering the co-worker to return to work. Their plan failed. The off-duty employee shot and killed his co-worker and then turned the gun on himself.

The murdered employee's family sued, saying the company failed to have an effective policy to prevent workplace violence. The suit also alleged that the supervisors were negligent in handling the situation.

A lower court tossed out the suit. But the New Hampshire Supreme Court let the family proceed with the part of the case that involved liability for the supervisors' failure to take action. The court said, "An employer has a duty to protect an employee who, while acting within the scope of employment, comes into a position of imminent danger of serious harm and this is known" by the employer or management. (Dupont v. Aavid Thermal Technologies Inc., No. 2001-027, Supreme Ct. N.H., 2002)

Advice: Courts don't expect you to protect employees and customers from every possible danger. But you do have a responsibility to protect them from dangers you can "reasonably anticipate," particularly if it involves imminent danger.

The best way to avoid tragedy is to put preventive measures in place. Have a clear plan for what to do in case violence does erupt, starting with protecting staff, calling police and warning others. Instruct supervisors to take reasonable care and fast action to prevent and diffuse threatening situations. In this case, the supervisors acted, but they didn't go far enough. For more advice, see free report offer in box above.


Free report, policy on workplace violence

Get a copy of our free, five-page report, Preventing Workplace Violence, which includes a sample policy. To have this report e-mailed to you, e-mail a request to and be sure to put "Workplace Violence" in the subject line.

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