The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which administers and enforces the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, has cited a convenience store owner for allegedly failing to safeguard its employees from robberies and other forms of violence on the job.
In the Matter of TMT Inc.
Bruce Rolfsen reports for the BNA Daily Labor Report (Nov. 30, by subscription only):
General duty clause
OSHA issued the citation under the law’s general duty clause, which requires employers to provide workers with conditions of employment “that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Despite thousands of individual regulations addressing workplace safety promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, there is no specific provision addressing workplace violence. However, OSHA has released a fact sheet on workplace violence and engaged in educational initiatives for employers about the subject.
Application to workplace bullying?
OSHA’s recognition of workplace violence as a serious hazard raises hopes that workplace bullying, too, will get greater attention.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal government’s research arm on workplace safety, has included bullying in its studies of workplace violence and aggression and hosted meetings of leading researchers to discuss the impact of bullying on worker health. NIOSH researchers have examined organizational dynamics of workplace bullying and the implications for intervention strategies.
Back in 2005, I participated in a working group convened by NIOSH to examine workplace bullying and psychological aggression. This included a day-long session in Cincinnati that, to this day, remains one of the most intense and insightful exchanges I’ve participated in on this topic.
We can now at least imagine the possibility that research findings about the harm caused by bullying will lead to a stronger regulatory response. As I’ve noted earlier on this blog, some of the analysis for that response may be found in the work of professor Susan Harthill of Florida Coastal School of Law, who has argued persuasively that occupational safety and health law can be part of a multi-pronged approach that includes collaborative and cooperative efforts between public and private employment relations stakeholders.
Of course, mild penalties are one of the genuine limitations of current federal workplace safety law, as reflected by rather paltry proposed fines (under $20,000) in the TMI case. In addition, this statute does not allow individual claims for damages by injured workers. Identical limitations would apply in workplace bullying situations as well.
Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction, and with the current Administration in place for another four years, it bears watching.