Articles Posted in Workplace Safety / Violence

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Yesterday’s tragic shooting in Virginia, in which two journalists were killed by a former co-worker and third individual was badly injured, was blindsiding. In the hours that passed, we learned more about the shooter’s turbulent work history. However, the only real hints at total disaster came in near real time, as the shooter let the world into the depths of his depravity through a bizarre manifesto and social media postings made shortly after the murders. All told, it’s hard to imagine how this tragedy could have been prevented.

A little less than five years ago, I wrote here about a horrific workplace shooting in Pennsylvania that left two employees dead and another severely injured. When I Googled to find more information about the aftermath of that 2010 shooting, I found this article about a jury award entered this past Spring, finding that the security company hired to protect employees at the facility negligent. Still, like yesterday’s shooting, no one could have accurately forecasted the Pennsylvania tragedy. Although, apparently, repeated clashes between the killer and her co-workers prior to the shooting suggested that matters could escalate beyond mere words.

Ultimately, it’s exceedingly difficult to predict workplace violence, and there is no solution to stopping it altogether, especially when outside forces can impact employee safety. However, there are several prophylactic steps that employers can take to reduce the risk. Please refer back to my 2010 post for some suggestions (and resources) on addressing the root of the problem before it spirals out of control into workplace violence.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Many of us, including me, have a loved one or friend who has suffered through mental illness. With proper treatment, counseling and support, the symptoms may be controllable. However, sometimes medication and treatment aren’t enough.

Mental illness, which generally qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, can disrupt the workplace. And, it can create a big problem where the employee is a threat to himself or others. Continue reading

nlrb.jpgLast week, the National Labor Relations Board issued this memorandum in which it has instructed regional offices to encourage employees to file complaints with the United States Department of Labor if the the regional NLRB office “believes that an employer may have violated a substantive or anti-retaliation provision of [OSHA] or the FLSA.”

Remember that the National Labor Relations Act covers more than just unionized employers and workplace. For example, many of the social media cases involving the NLRB that you may have read about actually involve non-union workplaces. So, if you haven’t gotten the message already, this NLRB initiative is another wake-up call to get your house in order.

Otherwise, you may have multiple federal agencies up in your business.

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ScarfaceIn every one of the United States, except Montana, employment is at-will. This means that, absent a contract of employment for a specific period of time, you may fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all.

(Not to be confused with “right to work” — more on that here)

Well, I suppose that there are some exceptions. Like, you can’t discriminate. And many laws make it illegal to retaliate as well.

Public policy exceptions to at-will employment

And then there are the public-policy exceptions, They vary from state to state. In Michigan, for example, a termination violates public policy when:

  1. the employee is discharged in violation of an explicit legislative statement prohibiting discharge of employees who act in accordance with a statutory right or duty;
  2. the employee is discharged for the failure or refusal to violate the law in the course of employment; or
  3. the employee is discharged for exercising a right conferred by a well-established legislative enactment

Why do I use Michigan as an example? Mancrush on Miguel Cabrera Well, the Sixth Circuit recently decided this case, where a drugstore employee decided that he’d had enough with past robberies at his store and decided to carry a concealed weapon in the event of a future robbery. So, when a masked gunman returned, the employee pulled his gun and started blasting.

The drugstore later informed the employee that he had violated its “non-escalation” policy and, ultimately, it fired the employee.

So, the employee sued alleging, among other things, that the store had violated public policy by terminating his employment in violation of the 2nd Amendment.

At-will > Second Amendment

The Sixth Circuit, however, disagreed. It held that while the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution provides for the right to bear arms, without interference from the state. In a private setting, such as your workplace, employees don’t have the same Second Amendment rights.

[Update: You can also fire Febreze-toting workplace cowboys too.

Don’t tolerate guns at work.

Unless you know that the law varies in your state, even where the employee is well-intentioned, such as the one in the case above, please don’t condone employees carrying concealed weapons at work. It’s bad enough that, every so often, we hear stories about workplace gun violence. Don’t add to that violence with more guns in the workplace.

Image Credit: Imgur.com

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Yesterday, the “New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act,” also known as the “NJ SAFE Act” was passed. I had a long day yesterday. So, rather than summarize the NJ SAFE Act myself, I’m going to lean on Trish Graber of PolitickerNJ to do it for me here:

“NJ SAFE Act” would provide 20 days of unpaid leave time to an employee who is the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault or whose parent, child, spouse, or civil partner was the victim. The leave could be taken within one year of the incident, and used intermittently in intervals of no less than one day. Provided that the employee has not exhausted the allotted 20 days for the 12-month period, each violent incident would constitute a separate incident for which a victim is entitled to unpaid leave.

Only business that employ 25 or more employees need comply with NJ SAFE Act. Those employees who have worked for the same employer for at least one year and have logged 1,000 base hours during the immediately preceding 12-month period are eligible.

You can view the new law here.

Hey, before you leave, do me a solid, folks. The ABA Journal recently opened nominations for the ABA Blawg 100 Amici, its annual list of the 100 best legal blogs. Since I’ve been serving up this brilliant prose to you every weekday for like the past two years, how ’bout you pay me back by nominating the ole Handbook, which you can do here. Or, you can literally pay me back with a generous Paypal donation, which is fine too. 

It’s all the same to me.

guestblogger.jpgToday we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It’s Noah Kovacs. Noah has over ten years experience in the legal field. He has since retired early and enjoys blogging about small-business law, legal marketing, and everything in between. He recently purchased his first cabin and spends his free time remodeling its kitchen for his family. Twitter: @NoahKovacs

(Want to guest blog at The Employer Handbook? Email me).

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Hurricane Sandy: Day 2

To my east-coasters, I hope this post finds you safe and dry. 

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Me? Hey, thanks for asking. Our Philly home kept power throughout and we otherwise made it through unscathed. Still, Philadelphia remains in a state of emergency. The City is essentially shut down. Most of the major surrounding highways have been off-limits. And, for a second day in a row, for the safety of the drivers and the riders, there is no public transportation in the City.

That means that local businesses too opted to close on Monday, and remain closed on Tuesday. Well, most of them. 

To the chagrin of some employees affected by the Hurricane, they had to work. And they have vented on Twitter.

After the jump, what your employees tweeted about working (or, maybe, not so much) during Hurricane Sandy…

[Don’t shoot the messenger]

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I’m punching out this post on Sunday night, from my home in Philadelphia, before the brunt of Hurricane Sandy strikes. Like many of you, I’m locked, stocked, and ready to go, hoping that the impact is far less than is forecasted and the recovery is easy.

Inevitably, however, for you good folks — especially if you have closed shop on Monday, employment issues are sure to arise. To help you out with some of them, read on past the jump…

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Coal Miners MemorialYesterday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) reintroduced, for a third time, the “Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act,” which would amend the Mine Safety and Health Act.

What does this bill say (CliffsNotes version)? And what are the chances of passage? Find out after the jump…

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