Last month, ten ironworkers from Philadelphia’s Ironworkers Local 401 were indicted in federal court for engaging in acts of workplace violence in an attempt to protect union jobs. The ten ironworkers union members were charged with various conspiracy charges for what was described as a “campaign of sabotage and extortion” targeting contractors who chose to hire nonunion members. The workers were thought to be responsible for a 2010 attack on a Toys R Us construction site in which three nonunion workers were injured with baseball bats. The group is also thought to be responsible for a 2012 arson attack at a Quaker meetinghouse construction site that caused approximately $500,000 in damages.
Workplace Violence in America
While the actions of these Philadelphia workers may seem like tactics belonging in a bygone era, the reality is that workplace violence is alive and well in America. Workplace violence is defined as any act or threat of physical violence and includes harassment, intimidation, sabotage, verbal abuse, and physical assaults. It is estimated that 2 million American workers become victims of workplace violence every year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 506 incidents of workplace homicide in 2010. The sales, personal protective services (i.e., law enforcement and security), and transportation industries have the highest incidents of fatal workplace violence, and workplace violence is the sixth leading cause of death in the construction industry.
Employers are Responsible for Curtailing Workplace Violence
Unfortunately, some incidents of workplace violence cannot be anticipated. Nevertheless, employers have a duty to provide their employees as well as other workers with a safe and hazard-free worksite.
Employers who do not adequately safeguard their employees or other workers from the dangers of workplace violence may be liable for an injured worker’s medical bills, pain and suffering, mental distress, and lost wages due to time away from work. Because of this, employers should take steps to identify and eliminate workplace violence as much as possible. For instance, employers can adopt and enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to workplace violence and immediately terminate any employee who is observed engaging in any workplace violence (regardless of whether the violence was verbal or physical). Employees should be encouraged to report incidents of workplace violence and know that their employer will promptly investigate the claim. Employers should refrain, as much as practical circumstances allow, from placing their employees in dangerous situations such as having them work in isolated areas alone or having them work late at night.
Employees who feel they are in danger of becoming a victim of workplace violence should call local law enforcement immediately and report the incident to their employer.
Victims of workplace violence from co-employees may be entitled to workers compensation benefits to assist them with medical bills and lost wages. Claims against third parties may also be made especially where third party employers do not take reasonable steps to prevent the incident of workplace violence. Thus, a personal injury attorney will investigate such things as whether the third party employer conducted sufficient background checks on workers, whether the employer provided adequate safety measures to protect others from workplace violence. If you have been the victim of workplace violence, contact us today at (508) 755-7535 for a free consultation.