In the summer of 2009, a man walked into an Old Navy store in downtown Chicago where his girlfriend worked, pulled out a gun, shot her to death, and then killed himself. Police called the incident a “domestic dispute.” Not only did Old Navy have to deal with the public relations nightmare the incident caused, the family of the murdered employee soon filed a lawsuit against the company. The suit alleges that the shooting could have been prevented and that store management knew of threats against the employee and failed to act. It also alleged that the store’s security measures were outdated because the boyfriend was able to enter the store through a private employee entrance and then gain access to a restricted employee area, where he committed the murder-suicide.
Incidents of workplace violence such as this one have become an increasingly problematic phenomenon in recent decades. According the bureau of Labor Statistics, 11,613 people were killed between 1992 and 2006 in incidents of workplace violence. On average, 1.7 million people are victims of violent crime while working or on duty in the United States every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” The workplace can be any location “where an employee performs any work-related duty.” This includes buildings, parking lots, clients’ homes, and travel to and from work assignments.While it would seem that the blame for workplace violence would most naturally fall on the perpetrators, employers also face various legal liabilities when their employees or customers are victims.
There are several methods by which an employer can be held liable for incidents of workplace violence, outlined below.