On June 25, 2019, a parts representative shot and killed a fixed ops director and parts manager in Morgan Hill, Calif., before shooting and killing himself, after the dealership terminated his employment.
Workplace violence can be random, but it still occurs between coworkers, disgruntled employees, associates of employees who enter the workplace, and customers. In addition to homicides, which garner the most attention and press coverage, there are more than 2 million cases of threats, verbal abuse and physical assaults in U.S. workplaces each year.
The Occupational Safety and Health Association regulates workplace violence using the general duty clause and cites employers who fail to prevent or abate known workplace violence hazards. Guidance identifies three categories of violence prevention mechanisms: administrative, behavioral and environmental.
While OSHA does not define these mechanisms, below are some ideas you can employ today, if you have not already, to minimize your risk of being liable if workplace violence occurs at your dealership.
1. Environmental Controls
• Security: Cameras are especially helpful to address and prevent violence like harassment or assault but can also reveal employee behavior that may contribute to more serious incidents, like carrying weapons. Security guards are also helpful, if practicable.
• Exits: Provide enough exits from all areas to allow employees to escape and avoid violent situations. Employees should know these exits too.
• Communication: Employees who work alone or on remote parts of the lot should have communication devices to report any violence. Employees must know how to use this equipment.
2. Administrative Controls
• Zero tolerance: You cannot tolerate violence of any sort against employees regardless of an employee’s position or compensation. Anyone perpetrating violence at a workplace should be punished, including coworkers, managers and customers.
• Incident reporting: Employees should report violence of any kind, even threats and incidents that originate outside the organization, since domestic violence may intrude upon the workplace. Threats of violence could include social media and other internet postings, and management should consider reviewing employee postings.
• Responsible people: This policy should designate people for employees to report incidents, preferably identifying multiple individuals to give employee options that make them more comfortable and preclude situations where designated people are involved in an incident. Managers should also train employees and have designated roles if a violent event occurs.
• Managing incidents: Diffusing violent and potentially violent situations should be addressed in the policy, with procedures explaining scenarios such as escaping from violent situations, terminating employees with someone other than their direct manager and immediately removing them from the workplace, and quickly alerting emergency services including managers, law enforcement, and medical providers.
• Post-incident procedures: If the worst-case scenario occurs, and you have violence occur on your property, you should offer medical care and psychological support following violent incidents. Remember: Violence affects all employees, creating grief, stress, and fear.
3. Behavioral Controls
• Conflict resolution: Train employees to resolve personal conflict with other workers and customers without violence, including providing a neutral manager to resolve disputes, stressing that employees should report any incidents and training employees to communicate without violence.
• Customized conflict resolution: Tailor your conflict resolution training to specific positions, considering how contact with the public and other workers may create disputes.
The June incident in California should remind you that even the most extreme example of workplace violence can occur. If you do not already have the above controls in place, you should confer with your trusted labor and employment counsel so that you can act now to make your employees safer.
Courtney Leyes is a partner in the Fisher Phillips law firm’s Gulfport, Miss., Memphis, and Nashville offices. Benjamin Ross is an associate in the Fisher Phillips Denver office.