July 19, 2024

By: Elsa Ramos

Legal Counsel to Commissioner Joe Esparza

When temperatures soar, tempers can flare. Studies have shown that there seems to be a correlation between hot temperatures and anger, aggression, and violence.

Employees are not immune. Stress is a major contributor to altercations in the workplace. Since hot temperatures can exacerbate already stressful conditions, during the summer months employers may see an increase in employee disagreements erupting into raised voices, profanity, threats of violence, or worse. What should employers do? Are they required to have policies prohibiting violence? Should the employees be fired? What about contacting law enforcement? Is it required? Are employers legally required to take any action at all? Workplace Violence Policy

Employers have an obligation to provide their employees with a safe working environment. Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupations Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a workplace free from hazards that could result in death or serious physical harm. With the exception of health facilities, private Texas employers are not required to implement a workplace violence policy. However, having a policy in place is highly recommended.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that employers adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Once a policy is implemented, it is important to train and familiarize employees on the policy. 

Neither OSHA nor Texas recommends a specific workplace violence policy. (Please refer to health facilities requirements in link above.) However, this sample may act as a starting point for employers who currently lack a policy addressing this issue. 
Angry emojiDiscipline for Employees Involved

Employee discipline is a matter of employer discretion in Texas. Employers are free to choose what they deem as appropriate employee discipline for policy violations. The same holds true for incidents of workplace violence. Companies may choose to discipline employees differently depending on the nature of the offending behavior. 

If an employer institutes a zero-tolerance violence policy, acts of physical violence may result in discharge. But what about verbal altercations that involve indirect threats? For example, is the statement, “If I don’t get that invoice by the end of the day, I’m liable to slap someone!” the same as the familiar, “Maybe we should just take this outside?” These questions may not have simple answers, but organizations should consider different scenarios and draft their policies accordingly.

Whatever the company’s choice of discipline, employers should strive for consistency and fairness in their treatment of employees while maintaining compliance with their duty to provide a safe working environment. 

Workplace Violence Poster Requirement

Regardless of the actions an employer deems appropriate, Texas law requires all Texas employers to post a notice about reporting workplace violence or suspicious activity to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Learn more about required posters here.

Contacting Local Law Enforcement

Title 5 of the Texas Penal Code includes various chapters that address offenses against the person, including specific threats of violence. Depending on the severity of an employee’s conduct toward a coworker or the conduct of a non-employee––such as a customer––toward an employee, employers should exercise their best judgment when deciding whether to report the incident to the police. 

Any decision to involve the authorities should consider the safety of all involved and the employer’s duty to maintain a safe workplace. The employer’s actions, or lack thereof, do not preclude any of the individuals involved from directly reporting the incident themselves.

Conclusion

Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is how most employers deal with violence in the workplace. To that end, having a policy in place that addresses this issue––and making sure that all employees are aware of the policy––is just the beginning of an organization’s action plan in ensuring a safe working environment for all involved. 

Learn More, Do More

For more information on workplace violence strategies and prevention, visit:  https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/  and https://www.tdi.texas.gov/pubs/videoresource/stpwpvio.pdf.