Is a violent co-worker a workplace safety issue?

Texas workplace violence includes any threat or violent action taken against a worker. It can happen both on the job and away from the workplace. Nobody is immune from workplace violence, and some workers are at a higher risk of injury from a violent coworker due to the nature of their workplace. Some workers at heightened risk are those who exchange money with the public, health care and social service workers, those who work in community settings with extensive public contact, those who deliver goods or services, and those who work in small groups late at night or early in the morning.

Among the leading causes of job-related deaths, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are homicides and physical assaults. A violent coworker is a workplace safety issue that employers should take affirmative steps to address.

Every workplace is supposed to develop and maintain a workplace violence prevention program, as well as employee handbooks or manuals of standard procedures that address this problem. All employees should be aware of the policy and understand that claims of workplace violence will be promptly investigated and addressed. Employers may also owe a duty to provide their employees with safety education and steps on what to do if they’re attacked by a violent coworker. It can also be helpful for an employer to install video surveillance, provide staff who work in the field with cell phones, and minimize access to work locations by outsiders.

Violent workers cannot insulate themselves by claiming to be members of a protected class or engaging in protected activity. Threatening or committing workplace violence is a legitimate basis for terminating an employee. Employees whose mental illness makes them violent or dangerous to others aren’t protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under 29 C.F.R. section 1630.14(c), employers are allowed to ask questions or require medical exams when the employer reasonably believes these types of questions or exams are needed to decide whether the employee can still work and whether he can present a direct threat.

Direct threats are significant dangers that can’t be changed or removed simply by providing a reasonable accommodation. Deciding that a violent coworker presents a direct threat is supposed to be derived from an evaluation of that individual’s capacity to safely do his or her essential job tasks. A reasonable medical judgment relying on what’s currently known should be used to decide whether there’s a direct threat.

Under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must give workers a workplace free from known dangers, and a violent coworker can be one of those recognized dangers. OSHA officials are allowed to cite a company for any complaint or death that results from the acts or threats of a violent coworker. OSHA has a directive that provides steps OSHA should follow to decide whether to start an inspection of an incident or complaint of workplace violence.

Known risk factors that OSHA is supposed to consider include contact with the public, money exchange, delivery of goods or services or passengers, mobility of the workplace, the setting (whether it’s health care, social service, or criminal justice), working by oneself or in small groups, early or late at night work, high crime areas, community-based settings, and whether valuables are involved. The Directive states that there is a violation for which an employer can be cited when an employer fails to keep the workplace reasonably free of a foreseeable danger, the danger was recognized explicitly or occurred in a recognized high-risk industry, the danger caused death or serious physical harm, and there was a feasible way to correct the danger.

Numerous important questions that affect your employment or the employment of your family and friends are likely to come before the Supreme Court. It can be important to obtain representation from an experienced employment lawyer when you have a dispute with your employer regarding workplace safety, discrimination, or other employment law matters. Contact us at (214) 528-6500 or via our online intake form.

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