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Assaulted at work? Here's what to expect from your employer

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What are your workplace violence employee rights? Is that even a thing? To what extent does your employer protect you from violence at work? These questions are important to ask in a world where workplace violence is steadily increasing.

Each year, almost 60% of all workplace assaults in the nation occur in the healthcare industry. This setting is no stranger to violence on the job, with many nurses, caretakers and other staff members seeing it as just part of their duties. Unfortunately, this attitude leads to a lack of reporting and therefore the data on workplace violence is actually far less shocking than the real numbers would reveal. It is estimated that around 25% of all workplace violence incidents go unreported.

Healthcare isn’t the only industry where workplace violence exists though. In other industries, workplace violence is still a major concern, with homicides accounting for nearly 10% of all fatal occupational injuries in 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As an employee, what rights do you have to protect you against violence at your workplace? Is your employer liable if you are a victim of violence at work? These questions can be tough to navigate and the answers can seem unclear at times, but you should nonetheless know some of the basic laws and guidelines in your industry as it pertains to workplace violence prevention.

Legislation & guidelines

First off, on the federal level, workplace violence (along with other workplace safety issues) are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Labor - Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). For much of the country, OSHA sets the standard for overall workplace safety, but each state may be different, so make sure to check your state and local laws to know what rights you have specifically.

As it pertains to OSHA’s guidelines on workplace violence, there are no specific mandatory standards. However, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers must provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees”.

Under certain conditions, this clause may include workplace violence, meaning that if a case were to go to court, OSHA’s General Duty Clause may provide enough legal weight to protect the employee(s) harmed.

How employers can help

OSHA suggests that the best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence either against or by their employees. A workplace violence prevention program should also be established. It is very important that employees understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated promptly. Additional protections suggested to employers can include the following:

  • Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, and how to protect themselves.
  • Secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, install video surveillance, extra lighting, and alarm systems and minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys, and guards.
  • For businesses that deal with cash transactions, provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand. Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late night hours.
  • Equip field staff with cellular phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices, and require them to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day. Keep employer provided vehicles properly maintained.
  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a “buddy system” or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
  • For healthcare institutions, develop policies and procedures covering visits by home healthcare providers. Address the conduct of home visits, the presence of others in the home during visits, and the worker’s right to refuse to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation.

How employees can protect themselves

If you’re an employee, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be safe from workplace violence regardless of how many precautions your employer takes to protect you. Because of this, it’s beneficial to learn how you can protect yourself to help reduce the odds of becoming a victim. You can do this by:

  • Learning how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.
  • Alerting supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and reporting all incidents immediately in writing.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that over 75,000 nonfatal workplace injury cases were reported between 2006 and 2010. Additionally, more than 3,000 people died from workplace homicide during this time. According to OSHA, around 2 million people each year report some kind of workplace violence.

Workplace violence solutions

Learn more about workplace violence prevention solutions and how you can help improve your organization’s safety by implementing emergency communication technologies.

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