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Customer Violence: The Other Workplace Violence Risk

A customer kidnapped a store employee during his lunch break after the employee refused to serve him at the marijuana shop in Washington where he worked.

Two customers, a 36-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman, tried to enter the store, but employees told them several times that they could not come in without proper identification, which the man did not have. According to employees, the man was "cordial" while inside the shop.

The two returned to a pickup truck, but the man then exited the truck and walked over to a car where the employee was taking his lunch break. The man pulled a gun on the employee, fired two shots into the window, got into the car, and drove away with the employee still inside.

Police arrested the man, who confessed to killing the store employee. The man said that he was having a bad day, and the employee "got the ugly side of it." "I did not think about it, I just pulled out the gun and shot him," the man said. Jonathan Glover "Employee of Cheney marijuana shop remains missing after kidnapping Sunday afternoon," (Sep. 11, 2017); "Man arrested in pot shop kidnapping gives murder confession to Spokane TV station," (Sep. 19, 2017).

Commentary and Checklist

Preventing workplace violence is a priority of almost every employer. For the most part, employers focus on disgruntled employees, former employees, as well as on relatives of employees as the primary risks to their workplace.

However, curbing workplace violence includes keeping employees safe from potentially violent customers. Spotting potentially violent customers is difficult, but employers should make employees aware that when there is an incident, especially when customers become angry, violent, or make threats, then all employees must stay vigilant.

Workplace violence is a real threat.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence, but under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers must provide employees with a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm." The courts have interpreted this clause to mean an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of “conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.” Any employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, threats, or intimidation is on notice of the risk of workplace violence. Responding with a workplace violence prevention program and training would be advised.

Here are some the statistics about workplace violence risk:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 409 workers in private industry and government were workplace homicide victims in 2014.Of those victims who died from workplace violence:
    • 83 percent were male
    • 49 percent were white
    • 32 percent were working in a retail establishment
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15,980 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2014. These incidents all required days away from work.Of those victims who experienced trauma from workplace violence:
    • 67 percent were female
    • 69 percent worked in the health care and social assistance industry
    • 23 percent required 31 or more days away from work to recover, and 20 percent involved 3 to 5 days away from work
  • In 2014, 68 women and 341 men were victims of homicide in the workplace. Of these women, 32 percent were killed by a relative or a domestic partner, compared to two percent of the men; 34 percent of the women were killed by a robber, compared to 21 percent of the men; and 16 percent were killed by a coworker or work associate, compared to 15 percent of men.
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