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Stop Workplace Violence: Understanding Requirements and Empowering HR Departments

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that approximately 2 million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year, underscoring the importance of proactive planning by employers.

Workplace violence is a serious concern that has been impacting employers and employees across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace violence incidents have been on the rise throughout recent years. Here's what employers should know about this growing problem and how they can work to prevent it:

What Constitutes Workplace Violence & Who is at Risk?

Defined by OSHA as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite, the term “workplace violence” encompasses a broad range of conduct in the workplace. Examples of workplace violence range from threats or verbal abuse to physical assaults, and even include suicide and homicide.

Year-To-Date Cumulative Transplants Data: 2023: 46,624; 2022: 42,880; 2021: 41,352; 2020: 39,029; 2019: 39,701

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Based on data from the BLS, intentional gun shootings in the workplace make up a majority portion of workplace homicides; however, statistics demonstrate that stabbings and other violent attacks also present significant dangers to workers.

The most common occurrence of workplace violence is assault, both from co-workers and third parties present at the worksite. Drugs and alcohol, bullying, discriminatory or harassing conduct, and domestic violence or stalking also contribute to violence occurring in the workplace. Employers can expect assaulted employees to be off work for about 7 days following an incident. These are significant disruptions to an employer’s business, not to mention dealing with the overall fallout from having significant violence occur in the workplace.

California SB 553 requires almost all employers to have a workplace violence prevention plan as of July 1, 2024. Several other states are weighing similar legislation.

Workplace violence is a pervasive issue that can impact all industries and occupations, regardless of their nature or size. From healthcare and retail to education and corporate environments, no sector is immune to the potential risks associated with workplace violence. Notably, anyone within an organization, including employees, customers, clients, vendors, and visitors, can become perpetrators or victims of workplace violence.

Although all workers experience some risk of workplace violence, there are a number of industries and occupations that may be at an increased risk for experiencing workplace violence. These include but are not limited to workers who frequently engage with the public, workers who work alone or in small group settings, or those who work during late night or early morning hours, or in high-crime areas. Additional factors may increase the risk of workplace violence, such as exchanging or securing cash, serving alcohol, or performing work in community settings or private homes.

Employer Obligations to Prevent Workplace Violence

While there is no federal law specifically addressing workplace violence prevention, the OSH Act says that employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees. This means that employers should be paying attention to their workforce and take appropriate steps to ensure a safe working environment.

OSHA may issue citations to employers that fail to provide employees with adequate safeguards against workplace violence.

More generally, OSHA guidelines say that employers may be required to implement a workplace violence prevention program if the employer: (1) has experienced acts of workplace violence in the past; or (2) becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other potential indicators that show the potential for violence in the workplace exists or has the potential to exist in the future.

In addition, a number of states have workplace violence prevention requirements, namely for the healthcare industry, but also encompassing other entities like public agencies, including public schools. The types of employers covered vary state to state, but many laws have similar requirements, such as having a comprehensive prevention plan and employee training in place. More recently, California SB 553 requires almost all employers to have a workplace violence prevention plan as of July 1, 2024. There are also several state legislative bills pending to implement new or expanded workplace violence prevention requirements. Workplace violence prevention regulations are an increasing trend across the country.

The bottom line is that, because workplace violence can happen at any time, it is a best practice for all employers to have a workplace violence prevention program in place.

Employer Takeaways & Solutions

Regardless of the industry or occupation, workplace violence can disrupt operations, damage reputations, and lead to legal liabilities for employers. By proactively implementing workplace violence prevention strategies, employers demonstrate a commitment to fostering a safe and secure work environment. Such planning not only upholds legal and regulatory compliance standards, but also cultivates a resilient and inclusive workplace culture conducive to long-term success and sustainability.

To minimize exposure to workplace violence, employers can implement various action steps:

  • Establish clear policies and procedures addressing workplace violence prevention, reporting mechanisms, and consequences for violations. Ensure that employees are aware of these policies through regular training sessions and communication channels.
  • Conduct in depth workplace assessments to identify potential risk factors and implement measures to mitigate these risks.
  • Promote and foster a culture of respect, inclusivity, and zero tolerance for violence. Encourage open communication and provide channels for employees to report concerns or incidents without fear of retaliation.
  • Offer employee support services such as access to counseling services, employee assistance programs, and resources for victims of violence.

It is a best practice for all employers to have a workplace violence prevention program in place.

OneDigital aims to provide employers with compliance confidence through a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP) Toolkit. *Note: Employers with California employees click here.

The WVPP Toolkit includes:

  • Template Workplace Violence Prevention Plan with comprehensive instructions to help employers customize and tailor the Plan to their specific workplace.
  • Accessible & editable forms, such as: Violent Incident Log, Workplace Violence Hazard Assessment, and Employee Survey and Reporting Forms.
  • Workplace violence incident investigation materials, such as forms for witness statements and incident resolution, as well as a checklist for responding to threats or acts of violence.
  • Sample workplace violence prevention training for workers.
  • Supplemental documents, such as: Anti-Violence Policy, workplace evacuation and drills checklist, and other emergency preparedness and contingency planning materials.

You can access the full toolkit and other related solutions here.