Employers’ Duty of Care of Employees

The lecture I recently attended on workplace violence included information regarding employers’ duty of care of their employees, with the goal being to foster an environment of zero tolerance for violence. The first component of every employers’ duty in this regard is, of course, to have a written policy that prohibits all forms of on the job violence, including bullying. The person who lectured to my group of mediators noted that bullying has been classified (by the government) as workplace violence since 1998 due to the likelihood that it will lead to physical violence. There is ample evidence of the carryover of domestic violence into the workplace, with 44% of employees experiencing domestic violence at work. In addition, and it should come as no surprise, that the biggest workplace bullies are bosses, with 65% of all workplace bullying incidents perpetrated by bosses toward someone they supervise. Workplace violence is, of course, a misuse of power, with intimidation used as a control tactic. Employers who allow their employees to work remotely are just as accountable to their remote employees, including preventing violence during working hours, as they are to their employees who work in a traditional office setting. In addition, employers, such as Magnus, that require employees to travel, are responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for all employees wherever they are working. This includes, of course, factors such as not requiring employees to stay in an unsafe hotel, not requiring employees to share hotel rooms, and not promoting work related travel that fails to protect employees from violence while traveling. I have been traveling on business for over 30 years and I am well aware of the need to ensure my safety as well as the safety of the employees with whom I travel. Sometimes, it can be a simple action, such as requiring all employees to walk together to their parked cars at the conclusion of a research day, when it is dark at the time we leave the building where we are working. Other times, it is ensuring everyone stays in a secure hotel, with interior room entrances, on an upper floor, to reduce the chance of predatory violence. The most important thing for every employer to remember is that all employees are owed, by law, a duty to be safe in the workplace, at all times when they are working.

Employers’ responses to harassment or violence send strong messages as to whether behaviors are tolerated.  In the instance Melissa mentioned about being grabbed from behind, that was an act committed by the attorney/client when she worked in her first trial consulting job.  Because he was a client, she didn’t respond with violence and hit him, but anyone who knows her knows she did not ignore such inappropriate behavior.  She told the client to stop, then reported it to her boss, who took appropriate action.  Beyond that, I can think of a few instances in our time owning Magnus when something happened that needed to be addressed.  In one of the instances, when the cats (us) were away, one of the employees tried to get away with bullying a younger employee.  It was frustrating to us when we eventually learned about the employee being bullied.  We only found out after the bully quit, quite dramatically, while seriously threatening, publically, to kill me.  In that instance, we took decisive action and reported the bully, potentially violent, individual to the police and state attorney.  We made sure the other employees were aware of this action so that they knew how serious we were about protecting ourselves and them.  In another incident, a mock juror crossed the line and made derogatory, racist, comments to a member of our team.  Melissa intervened immediately having observed the instance on the closed circuit television feed and got me involved quickly to escort the individual from the premises.  I also alerted the security at the hotel because, unfortunately, you just never know what could happen next.  I recall another incident when, having been fired, one employee refused to leave the premises.  His defiance was disturbing and threatening to everyone working in the office that day.  Without hesitation, the police were called and he decided that staying was not in his best interest.  In the final incident I recall, one employee received sexually explicit telephone calls from someone who had been a vendor of ours.  The short story is that, again, we called the police.  We took definitive action.  In all of these instances it was important to stop the problem immediately by taking proactive actions to reduce the chance of escalation and to ensure the employees knew we had their backs.  Shocking as these instances were at the time, we always know we did the right thing.


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