Workplace violence presents one of the greatest challenges an organization can face. Poised at the intersection of corporate oversight and law enforcements purview, threats and violence that affect the workplace generate a wealth of concerns for management. Chief among them lies the question of legality and liability. As it grapples with the security, management, and purely human aspects of the problem, an organization faced with threatening misconduct and violence must examine, too, what it can and should do from a purely legal standpoint.
The question of an organization�s legal responsibilities vis-�-vis workplace violence newly arises in the context of a post-9/11 environment. Awakened to volatility in the larger world and propelled by a sense of increased vulnerability to the violent manifestations of social ills, on whatever scale, many organizations have placed an urgent priority on workplace security. Some organizations concerned with security have reacted by tightening access control or taking other limited steps to guard against terrorist acts. Others, though, have responded more broadly by examining the events or circumstances that pose a more likely risk to safety and assessing the actions the organization can or should take to mitigate those risks. These organizations have developed an understanding of the full breadth of behaviors and circumstances that can threaten or disrupt the workplace. In addition to practical and management considerations, they have become familiar with the many legal obligations tied to efforts to prevent and manage threatening misconduct and violence.
Organizations who embark on the latter task quickly find that no one law exists to provide a clear road map to legally-necessary management action in the face of workplace violence. Instead, a complement of occupational health and safety statues and a multitude of legal theories emerging from cases nationwide collectively define the boundaries of an organization�s obligations to prevent and manage workplace violence.
This article provides a legal perspective on workplace violence. It surveys the legislation, regulations, and judicial decisions that together help shape what an organization must do � and indeed how far it must go � to safeguard employees
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Rebecca Speer is an attorney-consultant with over 20 years of experience providing Employment Law Services with a specialized focus on Internal Investigations, Employee Relations Management, and the Prevention of Workplace Violence, Discrimination, Harassment and other misconduct.
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