• Domestic Violence in the Louisiana Workplace, Part 3: Workplace Violence
  • August 5, 2016 | Author: Rachael M. Coe
  • Law Firm: Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office
  • It is not a matter of if, but when an employer will be confronted with a challenging domestic violence-related issue in the workplace. Domestic violence not only causes lost productivity and increased costs for employers, but also raises a host of potential legal obligations and liabilities that employers cannot afford to overlook. In this monthly series, Labor and Employment attorney Rachael Coe will discuss the various ways that domestic violence impacts the Louisiana workplace and what employers need to know in order to protect their employees, their customers, and themselves.

    Workplace violence is a grave concern stemming from domestic violence. A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 26% of women killed in workplace homicides were killed by their intimate partner. Abusers frequently appear at their victim’s workplace, and all too often will harm the victim and bystanders—and employers could be liable. There are two general theories of employer liability for domestic violence-related workplace violence in Louisiana: (1) the OSHA general duty clause, and (2) general tort liability.

    First, the OSHA “general duty clause” requires employers to provide a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.” 29 U.S.C. §654(5)(a)(1). Therefore, if an employer is on notice of danger posed by an abuser, then the employer has an affirmative duty to protect its employees from the threat’s potential violence. Employers violating the general duty clause can be penalized with prison time and hefty monetary fines of up to $70,000.

    Second, employers may be liable for the criminal acts of third persons resulting in injury under general tort law, meaning that the employer could be liable for the abuser’s actions. Such lawsuits are often brought as “wrongful death” claims, which can result in astronomical monetary damages. Many Louisiana courts have found employers liable for foreseeable criminal acts if the employer knew of the potential and did not attempt to prevent it. Studies have calculated that the average pre-trial settlement for a negligent workplace violence claim is $500,000.00. If the case makes it to trial, the average jury award is $3 million.

    In the case of workplace violence, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: once the employer is on notice of threats of violence, the employer’s liability increases. A Louisiana employer should already have a safety plan in place for how to address potentially violent situations so that it can respond quickly if danger arises. For example, a safety plan could include identifying potential risks at the workplace (such as points of entry that the dangerous person could use) and establishing a protocol for responding to the dangerous person’s presence at the workplace.

    For workplace violence issues specific to domestic violence, there are a few other things to keep in mind. If an employee approaches you with a concern about domestic violence or a restraining order against the perpetrator, take it seriously. Obtain pictures of the perpetrator and provide copies to security personnel and employees who work at the entrance of the workplace. If an employer suspects that violence is afoot, alert security and call the police. Employers should also be familiar with legal protections available to domestic violence victims, such as protective orders, and be able to identify warning signs of escalating danger (such as learning that the abuser was served with legal process, or that the victim has separated from the abuser, which can often be harbingers of violent behavior). These issues should be taken into consideration when developing a safety plan to respond to the threat of a domestic violence abuser at the workplace.

    Next month’s article in this series will explore what protective orders are, and how employers should respond to protective orders to maintain a safe workplace.