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Workplace Violence or Homicides in Massachusetts

Workplace violence has become an epidemic in this country. Too often, we think of such cases as unavoidable. But the truth of the matter is that employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Lack of security measures, lack of an emergency evacuation plan and other critical safety lapses can permit an act of workplace violence to occur or can otherwise make matters much worse.

The Massachusetts workplace violence attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman in Boston are committed to representing those who have suffered personal injury or wrongful death in the workplace. For every high-profile case reported in the media, there are dozens of cases of domestic violence, assault and intimidation that go unreported.

How prevalent is workplace violence? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that more than 2 million employees are victimized by violence each year. As incredible as it sounds, more than 400 employees are the victims of homicides in the workplace each year, making such violence among the leading causes of work injury nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is Workplace Violence?

OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Workplace violence includes threats and verbal abuse, as well as physical assaults and homicide, and affects employees, customers and workplace visitors.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified four types of workplace violence:

  1. Criminal intent: The assailant has no real relationship to the business or its employees and is committing a crime such as a robbery or shoplifting. For example, a convenience store worker who is shot during a robbery attempt is a victim of this type of workplace violence.
  2. Customer/client on worker: This type of violence is common in healthcare settings, especially in emergency rooms, waiting rooms, psychiatric treatment settings and geriatric settings.
  3. Worker on worker: This type of workplace violence is known as lateral or horizontal violence and includes bullying and verbal and emotional abuse. Victims of worker-on-worker violence are likely to be those in less powerful positions.
  4. Personal relationship: The perpetrator has a relationship to the employee outside of work that intrudes into the work environment. For example, the husband of a grocery store worker follows the worker to the store and threatens her. This type of violence affects not only the employee but the employee’s co-workers and customers.
High-Risk Occupations for Workplace Violence or Homicides

Employees who are at high risk for being victimized by violence in the workplace include:

  • Employees who handle money
  • Employees who work alone, in small groups or in isolated areas
  • Employees who work at night or in high-crime areas
  • Police officers, healthcare workers, and others who work with volatile or unstable people
  • Bartenders and others who work where alcohol is served

Other workers who are at high risk for being victims of workplace violence include delivery drivers, taxi drivers, public service workers and customer service workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 18,400 private industry workers experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2017 that required days away from work. Of those employees who experienced trauma from violence in the workplace:

  • 70% were female
  • 67% were aged 25 to 54
  • 71% were healthcare workers or social workers
  • 18% needed 31 or more days away from work to recover, while 25% needed three to five days away from work

Of those employees who died in 2017 as a result workplace violence:

  • 82% were male
  • 64% were aged 25 to 54
  • 21% worked in sales and related jobs and 19% were performing protective services

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported by NIOSH)

Preventing Workplace Violence or Homicides in Massachusetts

The scenarios are endless but usually have at least one thing in common: A company's security measures were insufficient to protect employees from harm. Perhaps an all-night convenience store lacks security cameras or other means of deterring crime. Perhaps a food delivery business continues to insist that its employees deliver to a neighborhood where employees have faced past violence or threats of violence.

Of course, the cases we all know and remember are the instances in which a mentally ill former employee or an employee's spouse brings a gun to work and goes on a rampage. Even in these cases, there is often ample evidence of risk. Employers can seek restraining orders against individuals, hire security and take other appropriate safety precautions.

In other cases, a lack of notification of the risks or a lack of appropriate evacuation measures have exacerbated such tragedies. Every company should have an evacuation plan, whether to deal with fire, weather or violence. Workplace safety programs should take special precautions in instituting additional safety measure to protect employees from violence while on the job.

OSHA advises that one of the most effective actions that an employer can take to protect employees from acts of violence is to enact a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. The policy should cover not only workers but other parties who might be affected by violence in the workplace such as patients, customers, visitors and contractors.

Massachusetts has a zero-tolerance policy for employees engaging in behavior that involves physical assault or battery, including:

  • Making threats that cause an employee to fear for his or her physical safety or the safety of a co-worker.
  • Acting in a disruptive or aggressive manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear physical harm or results in a disruption of workplace productivity.
  • Causing damage to property.

You can read more about the state’s workplace violence policy at mass.gov.

If you’re are dealing with serious injury or death of a loved one as a result of a workplace violence incident in Massachusetts, contact the Boston personal injury lawyers and wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today at (617) 367-2900 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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