Legal Liability and Workplace Violence

S. J. Brakel,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 26(4): 553-562, 1998.
Workplace violence is a growing social problem. Some of this growth may be perceptual, reflecting our new awareness of what constitutes violence in the workplace. Furthermore, much of what falls under its current rubric does not correspond to the classic image of worker-on-worker or worker-on-employer mayhem. Nevertheless, the total number of incidents is alarmingly large; the problem is real. It is natural to consider law (i.e., legal liability) as a potential solution. Aiming the liability threat at the employer may be the most effective and efficient strategy. There are ample theories to choose from: negligence (tort) law, agency law, contract, civil rights, and regulatory law. Judges and juries appear eager to hold employers accountable for violent incidents in the workplace, sometimes in the face of other, more logical constructions of the facts or theory. One's best hope is that the fear this strikes in the hearts of employers will make for maximum preventive results.