Employers Have a New Option to Prevent Workplace Violence

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What do you do when an employee is fired and the employee states he/she will come back with a gun and make things right?

What do you do when an employee reveals her soon to be ex-husband has threatened to kill her and is parking outside the business for extended periods of time or is continually calling the business and other employees to harass his spouse and her co-workers?

OSHA reports that some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.

Illinois employers can now obtain help from the courts to prevent potential work place violence. Effective January 1, 2014, the Workplace Violence Prevention Act allows an employer to seek an order of protection to prohibit further violence or threats of violence by a person if an employee has suffered unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence from the person and the unlawful violence has been carried out at the employee’s place of work or the credible threat of violence can reasonably be constructed to be carried out at the employee’s place of work by the person.

The Act applies to employers with five or more employees. The term “employee” includes wage earners, members of a board of directors, elected or appointed officials, volunteers, independent contractors and any other person performing services for an employer.

The Act enables “employers to seek restraining orders against disgruntled workers or others who have made a documented threat against an employee or the workplace.”

Employers need to provide proof there was a credible potential threat against the workplace in order for them to apply for a restraining order. The employer must show through an affidavit that there is sufficient evidence an employee has suffered a threat or there is a credible potential threat that could be faced by the workplace.

A credible threat of violence is defined as a statement or course of conduct that does not serve a legitimate purpose and that causes a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or for the safety of the person’s immediate family.

For example, an order of protection will enable an employer to prohibit a person: from entering on the employer’s premises; requiring the person to maintain a distance from the employer’s premises; prohibit the person from communicating with the employer through any means and prohibit the person from harassing, stalking and threatening employees.

Orders of protection are provided to law enforcement officials when signed by a judge. For example, if an employer who has previously obtained an Order of Protection calls law enforcement because the person is parked in the business parking lot, though ordered to remain at least 500 feet away from the employer’s property, a violation of the order will result in an arrest.

Often times an employer may only learn of a potential threat through an employee’s confidences. In order to ensure the employer not only protects its workers from harm but itself from any potential claim from a disgruntled employee, the employer should amend its employee manual, to disclose the employer’s right to obtain an order of protection, even in the event an employee’s private situation has to be revealed to obtain an order of protection.