Is workplace violence or workplace bullying illegal?

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act an employer has an obligation to provide a safe workplace, but does that obligation extend to protection from workplace violence? To workplace bullying?

Workplace Violence

Workplace violence affects nearly 2 million workers each year in America, with homicide being the number one killer of women in the workplace. Workplace violence particularly affects workers in high-crime areas and those who handle money transactions such as cashiers.

So, does the owner of a convenience store have a duty to protect its clerk from being robbed at gunpoint? The Occupational Safety and Health Act imposes no such mandatory duty on an employer to prevent workplace violence. However, an obligation could be found in the Act’s “General Duty Clause,” which states that an employer violates the Act if a workplace condition presented a hazard that was recognized by the employer or its industry, the hazard was likely to cause death or serious injury, and the employer could have feasibly eliminated or significantly minimized the hazard.

Instead of mandating standards for the prevention of workplace violence, the Act offers recommendations and guidelines to help employers protect their employees. For example, a recommended plan might include a specific plan for workplace security, training for employees and supervisors, and security and safety audits.

A recurring issue is the carrying of guns in the workplace. In Texas, employers can prohibit workers from carrying concealed handguns on business premises. However, employers cannot prohibit those employees from keeping concealed handguns—if they have a valid license—in their locked, personal cars.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated, abusive conduct in the workplace directed at an employee by a superior, colleague, or even subordinate. It can include threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. It can be a co-worker interfering with your work to prevent you from getting it done. It can also be verbal abuse.

Unlike workplace violence, there is no protection against workplace bullying in Texas. Further, workplace bullies can often operate within the rules and policies of their respective organization making workplace bullying a difficult thing to stop and prevent.