NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Feds Protect Workplace Violence

October 14, 1997

The federal government is hampering employers' efforts to combat violence in the workplace, say some experts. The legal interference is based on provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), privacy statutes and court challenges to unfavorable job references.

Among the conclusions of the study, sponsored by the Association for Competitive Technology, an industry group:

  • Each week, some 18,000 workers are victims of assaults and about 200 workers are murdered each week while on the job.
  • Although most workplace attacks are committed by outsiders during a robbery, employers report that cases involving violent employees are growing.
  • Last year, murder was the second leading cause of work-related deaths in the nation -- after auto accidents.

Under the ADA, employers are barred from asking about a disability -- including questions about emotional illnesses or psychiatric treatments -- before making a job offer.

Companies must tread lightly to avoid violating employees' rights to privacy. The DuPont Company was found negligent by a California court last year after giving an employee a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he could turn violent. The court found that the company should have asked the employee to sign a waiver of his privacy rights before the evaluation was turned over to the company.

Giving references can tangle firms in a legal thicket, experts caution. If an employer tells another company that a job applicant might be prone to violence, the first company could find itself charged with defamation of character. Yet a firm which recommends a worker who later turns violent could be sued as well.

Although 23 states have passed laws to shield employers from defamation suits, attorneys say the laws have made little difference.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "Combating the Enemy Within," Investor's Business Daily, Tuesday, October 14, 1997.


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