All workplaces and job sites contain hazards which, unless proper safety precautions are taken, could cause injury or death. It is reasonable for workers to expect employers to identify potential dangers in the work environment—from unsafe conditions to faulty equipment—and take reasonable measures to prevent those dangers from causing accidents or injury to workers.
Failure to provide employees with a workplace free from recognized and preventable dangers is not only unethical, it is against the law. The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 was passed to “ensure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards” for employers to follow, and this act established penalties for when owners fail to do so.
Violence in the Workplace
Violence in the workplace is less predictable and preventable than other hazards. Whether the source of violence is another employee, a customer, or someone completely unaffiliated with the business, anticipating the thoughts and actions of another person in order to prevent workplace violence seems beyond the control of employers. For this reason, judges and juries typically place the responsibility for most incidents of workplace violence on the individual who perpetrated the attack.
There are circumstances, however, when employers share responsibility for injury or death due to violence in the workplace, either because they were aware of the potential for violence, or because they failed to provide reasonable security for their employees. When this happens, the victim’s surviving family can hold that employer accountable in the courts, both to win justice for their loved one and to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
How Death From Workplace Violence Happens
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is defined as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” This could include verbal abuse, physical assault, and homicide.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 453 people died as a result of workplace violence in 2018. The motivation behind these attacks varied widely. Many incidents of workplace violence are the result of attempted robbery. Additionally, careers that involve contact with the public also increase risk, especially for those helping professionals who interact with individuals in crisis: social workers, healthcare workers, and first responders. Some violence in the workplace is the result of interpersonal conflict and domestic abuse, whether between employees or between an employee and the public.
When an Employer Shares Liability for the Violence
While it may be impossible to predict every case of workplace violence, employers should establish clear workplace policies and protocols to lower the risk. One policy OSHA suggests is a zero-tolerance response to violence in the workplace, whether perpetrated by an administrator, employee, or customer. If it can be shown that an employer was aware of previous violent actions by an employee or customer in the workplace, but failed to respond with swift and appropriate consequences for that behavior, it can be argued that the employer was partly responsible for the violence and death that followed.
If an employee or customer experiences harassment, intimidation, or violence in the workplace, and the employer fails to address those concerns immediately, or responds in a way that dismisses or tolerates the behavior, that employer could be held responsible when those behaviors escalate into violence or murder.
In addition, if employees are asked to work in contact with the public, particularly when money is exchanging hands, but employers fail to provide reasonable measures to protect their security, a judge or jury may decide that an employer’s careless attitude toward safety constitutes liability for any violence they allowed to happen on their premises.
Why You Should Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum
If a family member has died as a result of violence in their workplace, and you believe their employer is partly to blame, you need to contact a firm with experience in workplace wrongful death cases. Our team of veteran attorneys can listen to your case and provide feedback on what to do next.
Have You Been Injured On The Job In Rhode Island?
If you've been hurt at work you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Warwick office directly at 401.946.3200 to schedule your free consultation. We help work injury victims in Providence, Warwick and all areas of Rhode Island.