Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Your Company Prepared For The Threat Of Workplace Violence?

The terribly tragic recent workplace shooting in Troy, Michigan and the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech are dramatic examples of the very real danger of workplace violence. For employers, consider yourselves warned.

In addition to the moral duty to provide a safe work environment, companies also must face the reality of the potential legal and financial damages that can result from failing to take appropriate protective measures.

Although the general rule is that an employer is not liable for the acts of an employee that are outside the scope of employment, a company may still be liable under other theories, such as negligent hiring, supervision or retention. When the liability is related to workplace violence, the potential damages can be enormous and can threaten both the existence of the company and the livelihood of all the people who depend on it.

While there is no way to provide absolute protection against an incident of workplace violence, there are many important steps that your company should take in order to protect fellow employees, the company and its owners.

Take a moment and review your company’s readiness for workplace violence. In doing so, consider the following key areas:
  • Are job applicants, including their employment and any criminal history, adequately screened?
  • Do you have a clearly defined “no tolerance policy” towards violence and weapons?
  • Do your employees know the warning signs of potential violence?
  • Does your HR department know how to investigate alleged incidents of violence?
  • Have your employees been provided with procedures to follow in the event of a violent incident?
  • Does your HR department have a plan for the safest way to handle the termination of a potential hostile or violent employee?
  • Are procedures in place to maintain building security?
  • Do you have procedures to deal with a bomb threat?
These issues and more can all be addressed in policies for your employees and for management. Regardless of the size of your company, a simple and clearly defined set of workplace violence policies can be an important part of your company’s risk management program.

It is too late to plead ignorance to the threat of workplace violence, and once an incident occurs it is too late to create the policies that could have prevented the incident. Protect your company and its employees by planning ahead. As always, contact me if you have questions or if you want to discuss how these important issues.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Negligent Dancing (and other lurking workplace dangers)

A Chicago court is hearing a case based on an allegation of “negligent dancing”:
A Chicago woman is suing a man she claims flipped her into the air and dropped her on her head in a jitterbug-style dance move at a company event.

Her attorney, David M. Baum, said Prange should be accountable for the alleged injuries caused by "negligent dancing."
Why do I include this in a legal blog? First, because in scouring the internet for current legal topics I got drawn in by the headline.

But beyond the attention-grabbing caption, there are some legal lessons to be learned here.

For businesspeople, perhaps the most important is that your exposure to liability is probably greater than you think. Make sure to take the prudent steps to protect yourself and your company, including using the optimal entity (usually something that provides true limited liability protection, such as an LLC or corporation, not merely a certificate of assumed name filed with the county), always maintaining corporate formalities and keep your corporate records up to date to protect corporate integrity, and making sure you always have proper insurance in place, including any insurance needed for special events.

As usual, it all comes back to planning. Many hazards, such as the threat of being injured or exposed to liability as a result of a “negligent dancing” incident, are hard to predict. The best way to limit the damage from dangers, foreseen and unforeseeable, is to have the proper planning documents in place personally (such as a durable power of attorney, will, and medical power of attorney) and professionally (such as buy-sell agreement, fully funded by insurance, or a carefully drafted operating agreement). Don’t delay – contact your trusted attorney to start planning, or take a few minutes to review your plan, today.