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Workplace violence; the elephant in the (break) room

Employees worry about it, companies struggle to prevent it, yet it still occurs with alarming frequency. In the halls of elementary schools and college lecture auditoriums, in crowded malls and movie theaters, post offices and fast food joints — no space is immune from the threat of workplace violence.

The federal Department of Labor reported that in a single year, there were 375 fatal shootings of American workers on the job. While 33 percent of those who died were killed by robbers, a shocking 13 percent died in a hail of bullets fired by their own co-workers.

Fallout spreads from workplace violence

Not all of these incidents make the national nightly news, but that doesn't lessen the impact on those who are traumatized by the events or the survivors of those felled by the spate of violence. The fact remains that even those who were never grazed by a bullet can still suffer tremendously after such a horrific explosion of violence and depravity.

It's easy to play armchair quarterback after another one of these senseless tragedies plays out. But what's harder to do is assess, evaluate and prevent the problem from occurring in the first place.

What is the role of companies in this matter?

Above all else, companies owe their employees and customers the right to be protected while going about their lawful business on their premises. That duty of care can be something as mundane as mopping up a spill before a worker slips and falls or as all-encompassing as putting into place workplace safety features that deter these violent episodes.

That's certainly preferable to closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped. But what recourse does an injured or mentally traumatized worker have after an active shooter comes blazing through the door?

Responsibilities of companies

If you were a victim of a workplace shooting, your company should offer all of the following to you or your survivors:

  • Access to mental health professionals to debrief and counsel survivors
  • Covered medical costs
  • Salary reimbursement for time lost from work
  • Death benefits and funeral costs to families of those felled by gunfire

The cost is high

To avoid this worst kind of tragedy, companies have begun to take proactive measures that include hiring crisis management consultants, security professionals and public relations spinners to head off such crises.

Some companies even take out special insurance riders that cover potential instances of workplace violence. This can cover the reimbursement costs they pay out to victims, survivors and their family members. It can also provide funds needed to rebrand a company's image in the wake of such a ghastly episode.

Characteristics of vulnerable workplaces

If you work for a business or industry that has one or more of the below red flags, you are at higher risk of experiencing workplace violence:

  • Late-night hours
  • Serve alcohol
  • High levels of public interactions
  • High-stress environment
  • Involved in a reduction-in-force or restructuring of human resources

Can you draw workers' comp after workplace violence occurs?

While each application for workers' compensation benefits is evaluated individually, it certainly is possible to receive financial and other benefits due to a shooting that occurs in the workplace. To determine your own eligibility in such situations, you should learn more about your rights under North Carolina law.

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