Workplace violence is a serious public health concern, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that approximately 2 million people are victims of workplace violence in the U.S. every year. Because workplace violence can occur almost anywhere at any time, including New York, employers must take steps to prevent and prepare for any instances of workplace violence and keep their employees safe. Employees injured by others at work may also have legal claims to compensate for their injuries or be entitled workers' compensation under New York law.
Workplace Violence Statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, homicides have been among the top four most-common causes of death at work for the past 15 years, with an average of 590 deaths caused by another person at work each year from 2000 to 2009. Although people may be able to recall some instances of workplace violence resulting in employees' deaths that were covered extensively by the national media, over the past decade there actually has been a decrease in the total number of homicides occurring at work each year.
Not all workplace violence results in death, however. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that, from 1993 through 1999, 75 percent of workplace violence occurrences were simple assaults. An additional 19 percent were aggravated assaults.
Workplace Violence Classifications
Workplace violence is generally classified as one of four types based on the relationship between the target of the violence and the perpetrator. OSHA's types of workplace violence are:
- Criminal Intent: includes violence by people who enter the workplace to commit a crime, such as robbery, including current and past employees.
- Customer, Client and Patient: includes violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and others who receive services at the workplace.
- Co-worker: includes violence committed by a current or past employee, supervisor or manager against a co-worker, supervisor or manager.
- Personal: includes violence against an employee by someone who does not work there but has a personal relationship with or is known to the victim.
OSHA and other labor agencies stress that workplace violence is not unique to any particular industry, but certain occupations have higher risks of workplace violence than others. As determined by OSHA, factors that increase the risk of experiencing workplace violence include:
- Exchanging money with the public
- Delivering passengers or goods
- Working alone at night or in the early morning
- Working with the public or unstable people
Accordingly, people in the following occupations may be more likely to experience workplace violence:
- Police and corrections officers
- Healthcare workers like nurses and psychiatric evaluators
- Social workers
- Taxi drivers
- Late-night retail workers at gas stations, alcohol stores and convenience stores
Employers' Responsibilities and Potential Liabilities in New York
Because the risk of workplace violence exists in nearly all occupations, employers must take steps to protect their employees. Although the requirements may be different depending on whether an employer is public or private, generally, employers should create plans to prevent and address workplace threats and emergencies and communicate these plans to employees.
Employers should use security measures that provide reasonable protection to employees against workplace violence committed by customers, patients and others who do not work on the premises. Further, employers must take all threats seriously and respond appropriately to workplace violence by calling police and emergency medical services, for example.
In addition, employers must take care to avoid hiring or retaining workers who present a danger to the workforce. Employers are expected to perform background checks and other screening procedures when hiring new employees. If they fail to do so, or if they continue to employ a worker after his or her dangerous nature has been discovered, and the worker commits an act of workplace violence, the employer may be held liable for negligent hiring or retention of that employee under New York Law.
Moreover, if a co-employee is injured in an instance of workplace violence that results from an employer's improper hiring or retention of a worker or inadequate security, the injured employee may be able to collect workers' compensation in New York. Generally, under New York law, an assault by one employee against another falls under the Workers' Compensations Law as long as the assault was in some way related to a work situation, regardless of whether the assault was foreseeable - as would be the case if the injured employee argues negligent retention of another employee with a propensity of violence. However, the injured employee can always file a third-party suit against the co-worker that injured them.
If you were hurt in a violent act at work, contact an attorney with experience in workplace-injury claims to discuss your legal options.