Indiana has just enacted a new law, effective July 1, that potentially adversely affects employers and the workplace.
Passed over the opposition of employer and human resource groups, the law provides that employers may not prohibit employees from carrying loaded weapons to work if the weapons are kept in the employee's car, and only then if in a locked trunk or glove compartment.
Employers fear that this bill only serves to make a dangerous situation worse. Each year numerous people are injured or killed by violent acts in the workplace.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 there were 16,840 cases involving nonfatal assaults or violent acts by persons in the workplace. For 2007, out of a total of 5,657 workplace fatalities/fatal injuries, 11 percent (or roughly 622) were homicides. In fact, homicide has been one of the four leading causes of workplace deaths since 1992. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
Increasingly, employers face exposure for failure to provide a safe workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes the position that workplace violence is an occupational hazard.
Further, depending on the circumstances, employers may be liable for workplace violence under OSHA's general duty clause. OSHA's general-duty clause requires employers to provide each employee a place of employment free from recognized hazards "that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
Especially now with the enhanced burden created by the new law, employers should adopt a workplace violence policy. At a minimum, the policy should specifically define and prohibit all forms of workplace violence and threats of violence. The prohibition should be specifically linked with a clear statement of the consequences for violating the policy. In almost every instance, those consequences will result in termination.
Opinions are solely the writer's. James Jorgensen practices law at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso.