Violence committed by disgruntled employees or former employees is one of the fastest growing problems in the American workplace, according to Douglas R. Davis, an attorney with the law firm of Parsons Behle & Latimer.
He said U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that each year about 1 million people are victims of violent crime while working or on duty. Also, a recent report shows that workplace homicide is on the increase across the country and is by far the most frequent manner in which women are fatally injured at work.Speaking Wednesday in the Doubletree Hotel during an employment law seminar sponsored by his law firm, Davis said because of the increase of workplace violence it is important for employers to know their legal duties concerning workplace violence and what can be done to reduce the risk.
Although it is difficult to predict and control workplace violence, employers may be liable under various theories for the harm that is caused to employees, the alleged perpetrator and third parties such as customers and the general public, Davis said.
Employers can be liable for an employee's violent conduct if the employee's acts were committed within the scope of employment.
Under Utah law, Davis said, to be within the scope of employment, the employee's conduct must be of the general kind the person was employed to do, occur within the ordinary hours and physical boundaries of the job and be motivated by the purpose of serving the employee's interests.
Because it is difficult to prove that an employee's violent acts were committed within the scope of employment, people suing often rely on the theory of negligent hiring, retention or supervision.
Under Utah law, Davis said, to prove negligent hiring, retention or supervision, a person must prove the employer knew or should have known that its employee posed a foreseeable risk to third parties, the employee inflicted the harm on the third party and the employer's negligence in hiring, supervising or retaining the employee caused the injury.
In an effort to reduce workplace violence, Davis encourages employers to screen potentially violent people at the hiring stage.
Screening involves carefully analyzing the employment application, requiring a complete list of prior employers, inquiring about any gaps in employment history, conducting comprehensive personal interviews, checking background information and ref-er-ences, requiring applicants to disclose criminal convictions, obtain a release to obtain information from former employers and do a criminal history background check.
Another way employers can protect themselves against negligent employment claims is to adopt and require employees to read and abide by a written policy against workplace violence and harassment. The policy should include a strongly worded statement that violent or threatening behavior will not be tolerated and the offender will be subject to discipline and possible firing.
Davis said employees exhibiting signs of disaffection or inappropriate behavior should be monitored closely and referred to counseling.