By Joshua M. Henderson, Ilana R. Morady, Brent I. Clark, and Craig B. Simonsen
Introduction: We are posting our colleagues’ California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog post on workplace violence. While this particular topic is California centric, the principles discussed below are universal, and appropriate to publish widely. For instance, workplace violence under federal OSHA is generally citable under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Many states, including California, also enforce workplace violence under their own versions of the General Duty Clause. Additionally, local authorities generally will not get involved in a situation where employment workplace violence is feared — such as where one employee makes threatening statements about a co-worker/manager. But where the employer/employee has obtained a restraining order, the police are more likely to intercede.
By Christopher Im and Minal Khan
Seyfarth Synopsis: Workplace violence is a major concern that can take the form of intimidation, threats, and even homicide. But fret not: California employers can arm themselves with restraining orders, to prevent a modern version of the “Fight Club” at work.
Rule Number 1: If There’s a Workplace Violence Threat, DO Talk About It—In Court
Being at work during a scene reminiscent of “There Will Be Blood” is not an ideal situation. Yet incidents of workplace violence are alarmingly common. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nearly two million Americans report that they have witnessed incidents of workplace violence, ranging from taunts and physical abuse to homicide. The recent Long Beach law firm shooting by an ex-employee serves as a chilling reminder of what forms such violence can take.
While there is no surefire way to stop unpredictable attacks against employees—whether by a colleague, client, or stranger—California employers can avail themselves of measures to reduce the risk of workplace threats. One such measure is a judicial procedure: a workplace violence restraining order under California Civil Procedure Code section 527.8.
Rule No. 2: Understand What a California Restraining Order Looks Like
A California court can issue a workplace violence restraining order to protect an employee from unlawful violence or even a credible threat of violence at the workplace. A credible threat of violence simply means that someone is acting in such a way or saying something that would make a reasonable person fear for the person’s own safety or that of the person’s family. Actual violence need not have occurred. Many actions short of actual violence—such as harassing phone calls, text messages, voice mails, or emails—could warrant issuing a restraining order.
Restraining orders can extend beyond just the workplace and protect the employees and their families at their homes and schools. A California court can order a person to not harass or threaten the employee, not have contact or go near the employee, and not have a gun. A temporary order usually lasts 15 to 21 days, while a “permanent” order lasts up to three years.
Rule Number 3: Employer Requests Only, Please
The court will issue a workplace violence restraining order only when it is requested by the employer on behalf of an employee who needs protection. The employer must provide reasonable proof that the employee has suffered unlawful violence (e.g. assault, battery, or stalking) or a credible threat of violence, or that unlawful violence or the threat of violence can be reasonably construed to be carried out at the workplace.
So how does an employer request and obtain protection for their employees?
Rule Number 4: Document the “Fight”
The employer must complete the requisite forms and file them with the court. Though the forms do not require it, it often is helpful to include signed declarations from the aggrieved employee and other witnesses.
If a temporary restraining order is requested, a judge will decide whether to issue the order within the next business day, and if doing so will provide a hearing date on a permanent restraining order. A temporary restraining order must be served as soon as possible on the offender. The order becomes effective as soon as it is served. Temporary restraining orders last only until the hearing date.
Rule No. 5: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize at the Hearing
At the hearing, both the employee needing the restraining order and an employer representative should attend. Employers may bring witnesses, too, to help support their case. The person sought to be restrained also has a right to attend, so the employee needing the restraining order should be ready to face that person. If necessary, the employer or the employee can contact the court or local police in advance to request that additional security or protective measures be put in place where there is a threat of harm.
During the hearing itself, the judge may ask both parties to take the stand for questioning. Upon hearing the facts, the judge will either decide to deny the requested order or decide to issue a permanent restraining order, which can last up to three years.
Restraining orders are a serious matter, as employers are essentially asking the court to curtail an individual’s freedom. But such an order is a powerful tool that an employer may find necessary to protect the safety of its employees.
Workplace Solutions: Even though it may relatively easy to demonstrate a credible threat of violence and thus obtain a protective order, know that California courts protect all individuals’ liberty, including their freedom of speech. Obtaining an order to restrain that liberty requires a detailed factual showing.
For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of Seyfarth’s OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.