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Workplace violence has increasingly become a concern in the United States. Post office shootings and other violent work-related incidents always garner a significant amount of press coverage and media attention. Law enforcement has had to develop laws specifically related to workplace violence in order to effectively deal with the problem. While each state has its own set of laws in place that affect how businesses operate in relation to violent problems, the federal government has its own laws that apply to all 50 states.
Employers Can Be Liable
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) maintains that an employer is directly responsible for providing a safe working environment for all employees and any other people present in the location of employment. If an employer is found to have ignored signs of a violent situation (such as harassment or bullying) or is found negligent in allowing a violent act to occur in the workplace, than the employer can be cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employees reporting an employer's negligent behavior in preventing violent incidents are protected from being retaliated against by the employer.
Many federal laws work in conjunction with each other, and laws regarding violence in the workplace are no exception. Some violent incidents in the workplace can stem from harassment, and there are federal laws that specifically prohibit the harassment or mistreatment of any employee on the basis of his sex, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. If an employer is aware of a harassment situation taking place at work, that employer is in violation of both the OSH Act and federal harassment laws. If a particular employer is found to be responsible (such as a manager or supervisor), that person can be brought up on criminal charges as well as be held civilly liable, depending on the severity and evidence regarding the incident. The business as a whole can be cited as well if it is proven that the harassment was known about and not dealt with effectively or prevented.
Jurisdiction Regarding Violence Laws
States are welcomed by OSHA to form their own laws regarding workplace violence, but the state laws must meet the minimum standards set forth by federal law and not conflict. Federal employees are protected by the workplace violence statutes of their individual agencies; however, federal agencies cannot be fined for violating health and safety standards per Executive order. The one exception is the U.S. Postal Service, which now falls under OSHA jurisdiction just like any private business.
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