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Violence in the workplace is a worst-case scenario for New Zealand businesses. At all times, you want to manage your employees and ensure they have a happy and healthy place to work. There are a range of legal considerations that are relevant regarding managing incidents of workplace violence. These primarily include health and safety obligations to your employees, like taking reasonably practicable steps to ensure their health and safety. There are also relevant obligations under employment law. 

This article will set out three legal considerations for managing workplace violence, including:

  • identifying risks of violence; 
  • your health and safety responsibilities during incidents of violence; and 
  • making use of effective policies and procedures.

Identification of Violence Risks

Your business has an obligation to identify serious risks to the health and safety of your employees. Naturally, violence is a serious risk to health and safety. You should accordingly ensure that your business is taking steps to identify any possible risks or incidences of violence. Likewise, take proactive steps if there are any signs of possible violence to minimise such risk. 

There are a variety of ways that your business can identify risks of violence. These include:

  • if there have been previous incidents at your business involving violence, including threats of violence;
  • whether there is any threatening behaviour at your business;
  • whether there are any threats of violence on social media concerning your workplace or employees; 
  • if your employees raise any concerns or risks about violence to you; or
  • if similar businesses have reported or discussed threats or incidents of violence.

Likewise, another method to identifying risks of violence in your business is by discussing your employee’s experiences at work, including with clients or customers. Having these conversations may suggest the possibility of violence.  

Additionally, your business might share an office or other property with other organisations. In that case, you should consult and cooperate with those organisations in the event of a risk of violence. Again, this falls within your health and safety legal duties. 

Health and Safety Responsibilities

If there is an incident of violence at your workplace, you have a series of legal obligations, not least to protect your employees from future violence. The incidence of violence at your workplace significantly raises the risk of future violence. Consequently, in most cases, you must eliminate the risk so far as you can. However, there may be scenarios where you cannot eliminate the risk of violence altogether. For instance, there may be an aggressive or violent first-time customer in your store who you predict will not enter your store again. In any event, you must take steps to minimise the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. 

What this legal obligation requires of your business depends on your business’ specific circumstances and the nature of the risk. Health and safety law will generally ask what a reasonable person in your position would be expected to do in your place. You should generally take all means possible to stop the risk from happening again if it is in your control. For instance, if your own employee is the cause of the violence, you might conduct a disciplinary investigation.

Note that just because a possible way of minimising the violence may be expensive or resource-intensive does not mean that it is reasonably practicable. Cost or resource requirements will only be a reasonable basis not to take action if the cost would be grossly disproportionate to the risk. 

Make Use of Policies and Procedures

It is essential to make effective use of policies and procedures to minimise the risk of violence at your workplace. For example, implement or update employment policies and health and safety procedures to account for risks of violence. The overall aim of your business should be to implement a zero-tolerance policy against violence. This may mean putting specific processes in place to minimise the risk of violence. 

These specific processes can differ depending on the risk faced by your business in particular. For instance, it might be the case that specific customers or clients to your business are threatening violence or at least put your employees at more risk. If this is the case, you should take reasonable steps to protect your employees. In addition, you can design procedures to assist in these difficult cases, such as planning alternatives to in-person contact such as contact by phone or even bodyguards if necessary. 

It is best practice to engage a health and safety lawyer for advice on drafting effective processes and procedures in the context of your business.

Key Takeaways

There are a range of relevant legal considerations when it comes to managing workplace violence. These include identifying risks of violence and engaging with workers regarding risks or challenges they face. You should also be aware of your health and safety obligations to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or minimise the risk of violence to your workers. Likewise, put effective policies and procedures in place to help achieve this.

For more information about managing workplace violence, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can businesses identify risks of violence?

There are a variety of ways to identify the risk of violence in your workplace. Firstly, an great place to start is by noting previous incidents of violence. Next, check for any live threats of violence, including on social media for mentions of violence related to your business. Additionally, you should talk and listen to your employees if they raise any concerns about violence.

What is a business’ health and safety obligation with the risk of violence?

Businesses are obligated to eliminate the risk of violence that arises from their work so far as is reasonably practicable. Suppose you cannot eliminate the risk, as it can be difficult to completely eliminate the risk of violence in some situations. In that case, you must take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the risk. This will change depending on the individual circumstances of your business.

What happens if customers or clients are violent or threaten violence?

You have an obligation to your workers to protect their health and safety, particularly from known or foreseeable threats. Try to use alternatives to in-person meetings, such as contact by phone or other ways to protect your workers. You should not ignore warnings from your employees that they may be at risk. 

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