North Carolina Workplace Violence a Serious Concern for All

A North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper recently survived being shot by a suspect who fired at close range into the officer’s hands, shoulder and face. The suspect, a Vermont native with a long criminal history, had been initially stopped for not wearing a seat belt. shatteredglass.jpg

Our North Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys understand that the trooper is expected to make a full recovery after undergoing at least two surgeries.

While we are happy that this trooper narrowly avoided a tragic death, sadly too many people leave for work and never come home, victims of workplace violence. It’s not just police or corrections officers, either. The fact is, no one is immune. Everyone from store clerks to school teachers have faced this reality.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, some 2 million Americans report being victims of workplace violence every year. That’s considered a low estimate, as many instances are never reported.

Some of the occupational duties that may heighten the risk include:

  • Exchanging money with the public;
  • Working with unstable or volatile people;
  • Working in isolated areas or alone;
  • Providing care and services;
  • Working in establishments were alcohol is served;
  • Working at night;
  • Working in high-crime areas.

In addition to police, some of the more at-risk professions include delivery drivers, convenience store clerks, healthcare workers, public servants, customer service personnel and anyone who works in small groups or alone.

Still employer in this country should assume this is a real possibility and take appropriate measures to protect their workers.

Unfortunately, not every company takes this responsibility seriously. Recently, OSHA’s Region 4 office (which also covers North Carolina) filed a lawsuit against a Florida construction company after supervisors allegedly firing a worker for reporting workplace violence. For two years, the employee reported, a supervisor had made inappropriate sexual comments and advances, behaved abusively, screamed and yelled, made physically threatening gestures and threatened to withhold the worker’s paycheck. The employee implored the supervisor to stop and informed him he was creating a hostile work environment. It did not end, however, and the worker was fired.

Companies need to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violence. That includes not only with supervisors and among fellow workers, put also with visitors, clients, contractors, patients and anyone else with whom employees may come in contact.

Zero tolerance should include swift disciplinary action against any offenders. When those individuals are also employers, actions may include reprimands, suspension and termination.

A recent study by the FBI Academy outlined approaches to workplace violence that do NOT work. Those include:

  • Denying a problem;
  • Not communication with those involved;
  • Lack of careful vetting of job applicants;
  • Not having a clear, written policy against violence;
  • Not documenting reported incidents of previous violence;
  • Lack of a company-wide commitment to safety.

Every worker who leaves for his or her job in the morning should be able to return safely, without assault and without having suffered any form of abuse.

Here’s what employers SHOULD do:

  • Have a zero-tolerance violence policy and communicate that to all employees at every level;
  • Occasionally survey workers to gauge whether there are problems or room for improvement;
  • Offer basic violence prevention training for supervisors and workers;
  • Provide a physically secure work space;
  • Periodically evaluate workplace violence prevention plans.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
US Department of Labor sues Duane Thomas Marine Construction in Florida for firing employee who reported workplace violence, Employer violated OSH Act’s Section 11(c), Feb. 6, 2013, Region 4 News Release, OSHA

More Blog Entries:
Pregnant Workers Risk Injury If Not Given Light Duty, Feb. 7, 2013, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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