Despite federal statistics that show workplace violence is on the downswing, there have been a number of high-profile cases of it in the news recently.
In the most recent case, on September 25, police searched areas of the University of Wisconsin Madison for a suicidal man who had fired shots near a local hospital and threatened to bomb it. Police now say the that bomb threat was spurious, but that the man had a gun and intended to force a shoot-out with police, hoping to be killed in the process. “It’s a simple case of attempted ‘suicide by cop’,” according to Burt Bruins, an officer on the scene.
Police cancelled classes and put the university on lock-down as they searched the campus for a 19-year-old Madison man who was serving a work-release jail term for armed robbery. According to Dale Burke, assistant UW-Madison police chief, the man quit reporting to his parole officer earlier in the month. The man, who has a history of mental illness, was believed to be armed. Police cancelled a soccer game scheduled for that evening, and urged visitors to stay away from the University of Wisconsin Hospital.
Several recent incidents of violence have occurred on college campuses. While many violent incidents involve students, they alos endanger the lives of countless professors, administrators and staff members who must work on college campuses every day.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre earlier this year, colleges are becoming especially careful to limit activities and warn students and employees of possible dangers. In this incident, the University of Wisconsin Madison sent two emails to students and faculty, advising them of the danger. Still, some did not get the message. One student walked home after being told that his football game had been cancelled for unspecified security reasons. He had no idea until arriving safely in his dorm, that he put his life in danger by walking through the exact area where police were searching for a suicidal, armed man.
In response, the university began checking student IDs before admitting anyone to dorms, and paying for cab rides to ensure that some students safely arrived home.
In a bizarre coincidence, this was the second security scare in 2 weeks for the UW Madison campus. Last week, police arrested a 52-year-old man who was in violation of a restraining order, requiring him to stay off campus and stop harassing female students.
In a tragic event in September, two 17-year-old students were shot outside a college dining hall. Police in Dover, Delaware interviewed a student regarding the early morning shooting of two students on campus at Delaware State University. The university was put on lockdown after the two were killed near Memorial Hall, the school sports arena.
The Virginia Tech massacre remains the greatest workplace tragedy of the year. On April 16, 2007, an assailant armed with semi-automatic weapon and “enough ammo to start a war” chained the doors of a campus building shut. Seung-Hui Cho killed a total of 32 students and staff on the sprawling campus, and wounded 17 others before turning his gun on himself as police closed in.
As tragic as this story is, it is becoming a less common one in the workplace, according to a recent report. According to an annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, homicides in the workplace are on the downswing. In 2006, OSHA reported the lowest number of workplace homicides since the BLS began keeping records. The rate was a decline of more than 50% from the highest reported workplace homicide rate, in 1994.
Total assaults and violent acts resulting in death decreased from 792 in 2005 to 754 in 2006. That’s a reduction of about 5%.
Like all the BLS workplace fatality records, these have been adjusted to eliminate deaths associated with the 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York. Had those fatalities at work been included, 2001 would have had far more workplace homicides than any other year.
Fall is the season when the leaves change color, children go back to school and teens look for after-school jobs. The Alabama Department of Labor wants to remind every employer that special regulations regarding the employment of anyone under the age of 19 went into effect on the first day of school.
Alabama has experienced a spike in violations of child labor laws in the past 6 months. Employers who violate the child labor laws will be charged with a misdemeanor.
In one very high-profile case in recent years, the general manager of a Montgomery Visionland franchise pled guilty to three counts of violating the stat’s child labor law. In that case, three young people under the age of 16 worked past 9 pm. The state laws require that youths aged 14 and 15 finish work by 7 pm during the school year and 9 pm during the summer months, when school is not in session.
State child labor laws are strictly enforced by the Alabama Department of Labor. Jim Bennett, Commissioner of Labor, says that he department is vigilant in the area of protecting children. “Our department will make every effort to ensure Alabama’s teenagers have the proper time for their schooling as mandated by state law.”
Young people who are 14 or 15 years old cannot work during the school hours of 8 am to 3pm, Monday through Friday in Alabama. They can work after school for 3 hours only, but must be finished by 7 pm. On Saturday and Sunday they can work up to 8 hours per day. Youths this age may not work more than 18 hours total in any week. Youths in this age group are severely restricted in the jobs that they can legally hold. In general, they are allowed only to work in a retail establishment or in an office.
The Alabama child labor laws also apply to young people who are 16, 17 or 18 years old and enrolled in high school. Teens in this age group may not work past 10 pm on any night that precedes a school day (usually Sunday through Thursday.) There are no hour restrictions in Alabama for young people 16 or older who are not enrolled in high school.
Alabama employers must obtain work permits for each employee under the age of 18. Work permits are issued at the Board of Education in each city and county, and at most public high schools. Many private schools also issue work permits.
During the summer, or at other times when school is not in session, young people aged 14 or 15 years old can work until 9 pm. They may work up to 8 hours per day and up to 40 hours per week. Again, the employment is generally limited to a retail establishment, office or another similar environment that the Department of Labor deems safe.
During the summer, young people who are 16 or 17 years of age can work more than 40 hours per week. However, the employer must still have a work permit on file for each minor employee.
State law, as well as federal laws, prohibit young people from working in a number of occupations considered hazardous. These include construction work, any job using power saws or roofing work. Young people are also prohibited from driving a forklift at work. They are not allowed to hold any job that involves driving an automobile or truck.
State child labor laws vary greatly, with Alabama’s being some of the most restrictive. In Alabama, a young person under the age of 16 cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, or 18 hours per week while school is in session. In both Texas and Arkansas, the youngster can work up to 8 hours per school day and up to 48 hours per week. In Idaho, a 15 year old can work up to 54 hours per week, in Wyoming, up to 56 hours.
Workers in Missouri will get a much-need lift from the U.S. Department of Labor with a $1 million National Emergency Grant. The grant of up to $1,098,450 will assist 310 workers displaced as a result of the closure of the O’Sullivan Industries plant in Lamar, Missouri.
“This nearly $1.1 million grant will help Missouri workers access employment services to help them find new hobs in high growth industries, “said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
O’Sullivan Industries issued a federal WARN notice on April 16, 2007, announcing that it would begin layoffs on July 20, 2007. Workers are also eligible to receive assistance under the Trade Adjustment Assistance or TAA program, a national program for workers displaced by foreign factories.
O’Sullivan Industries was a leading producer of inexpensive furniture products for home and office use, including desks, shelves and similar products. Items, usually requiring assembly, were sold nationwide in Kmart and other stores. O’Sullivan has ceased production and is no longer in business, although some of its product lines have been acquired by other companies.
Lamar, Missouri in Barton County, is best known as the small-town birthplace of U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
Some of the benefits offered under this grant may include preparing resumes, career counseling skills assessment and job placement assistance. The initial release of $499,304 goes directly to the Missouri Department of Labor. None of the funds are paid directly to the displaced workers.
This was just the most recent of a series of National Emergency Grants awarded by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. In September, a $250,000 grant was awarded to a new program, SI WORKS, designed to improve worker opportunities and economic development in 20 southern Illinois counties.
Also in September, a $3 million grant went to provide temporary jobs and benefits to workers in parts of Minnesota ravaged by flash floods.
More than 400 workers laid off by Micron Technology, Inc. in Boise, Idaho received assistance through a grant of more than $2 million. The U.S. Department of Labor immediately released $847,538 of the grant to assist workers dislocated by the layoffs. The total grant is for $2,010,277.
“This $2 million grant will provide these Idaho workers with skills training, career counseling and other employment services to help them find and succeed in new jobs,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced a grant of more than $1.2 million to assist some 246 Rhode Island workers who were displaced by layoffs at the Brooks Eckerd corporate offices in Warwick. The layoffs are due to acquisition of Brooks Eckerd by Rite Aid.
Two grants totaling more than $1.94 million went to benefit workers in Massachusetts and Missouri. The emergency grants helped provide a number of job resources to workers who are unemployed due to plant closings. In addition, the DOL has ruled that these workers are eligible for additional assistance under TAA, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, National Emergency Grants (NEG) are discretionary awards by the Secretary of Labor. The grants temporarily expand service capacity at the state and local levels through time-limited funding assistance in response to “significant dislocation events.” When a layoff, plant closing or other event creates a need beyond what the state can reasonably be expected to meet, the state may apply for an Emergency Grant. In order for a state to qualify, any discretionary funds available at the state level must be included in the state’s resources.
Grants are given for different purposes. Disaster grants benefit areas afflicted by floods, wildfires, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Other grants include Trade-WIA Dual Enrollment grants and Trade-Health Coverage Infrastructure grants.
A high school teacher in Medford Oregon is suing her employer because she wants the right to bring a loaded Glock 9 mm handgun to work with her. The Medford School District prohibits the possession of a weapon on school property, as do almost all of the state’s 198 other school disricts. School District officials point out that the rule keeps loaded guns from falling into the hands of students, and prevents accidental shootings.
The teacher, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, argues that she is a victim of domestic violence and needs the gun to protect herself and her daughter. Her ex-husband has repeatedly violated restraining orders and made death threats against her, according to police report. Her ex-husband is a substitute teacher in the district, which gives him access to the building where the teacher works. Although there are police officers at the school, they are too far away to hear her if she cries for help.
The teacher’s legal bills are being paid by the Oregon Firearms Education Foundation, a gun rights group.
“It is abhorrent that any district would be so hypocritical to insist students receive instruction on the importance of individual rights only to trample the rights of their teachers whenever it sees to do so,” the teacher wrote in an editorial published in the Oregonian newspaper.
In the U.S., 37 states have laws that prohibit guns at school. However, Oregon state law allows those with a concealed weapons permit to bring the weapons into public buildings, even into schools. Heavy lobbying by pro-gun groups have resulted in the failure of several attempts to make guns at school illegal.
The recent spate of workplace violence, including the Virginia Tech massacre, has sparked renewed debate on gun laws. While a number of states are considering tighter controls on the sale of handguns, some are taking the opposite tack. Both Texas and Florida have recently reopened debates that would make hand guns legal at work. In both those states, legislation under discussion would make it legal for an employee to bring a loaded handgun to work with them. If the controversial legislation passes, it would be illegal for employers to ban guns at work.
Many workers are concerned about safety on the job following a rash of violent incidents. These include a tragic event in September, when a 40-year-old waitress at an Orlando Denny’s was stabbed by her estranged husband in the restaurant on International Drive. Several families who had just left Walt Disney World witnessed the brutal attack. Customers and coworkers chased the attacker away. The man escaped only after jumping a nearby fence. In his haste to flee, he left behind the bloody knife and ran right out of one of his shoes. Despite the paramedics’ best efforts, the woman died of her injuries.
The Virginia Tech massacre remains the greatest workplace tragedy of the year. On April 16, 2007, an assailant armed with semi-automatic weapon and “enough ammo to start a war” chained the doors of a campus building shut. Seung-Hui Cho killed a total of 32 students and staff on the sprawling campus, and wounded 17 others before turning his gun on himself as police closed in. Cho had murdered two people in a nearby dorm earlier in the day. Some have criticized university officials for not closing the campus and the police for dismissing the original paid of homicides as “a domestic dispute.” It’s particularly puzzling that initial reports from police labeled the incident a “murder-suicide” when both victims were shot, but no gun was found in the room.
Seung-Hui Cho exhibited a number of signs that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has identified as warning signals of workplace violence. He had a history of irrational crushes on women he hardly knew, bordering on obsession. His stalker-like behavior and irrational jealously towards these casual acquaintances was out of proportion to actual events. Cho was a loner who isolated himself from all social contact. He had fits of rage and showed an unhealthy interest in weapons. He had a history of mental health problems, but was not receiving treatment for them.
A recent incident in Jacksonville, Florida highlights a nationwide concern for employers. In June, Andy Gates purchased a U.S. Airways ticket from Florida to Milwaukee. When he arrived at the gate on the departure date, airline employees refused to allow Gates to board the plane. Employees said that because Gates was in a wheelchair, he was too disabled to fly. Airline employees told Gates that he needed to bring a nurse to assist him in case of any emergency, or to remain on the ground.
Gates has flown at least 7 times by himself in the past without incident. Several of those flights were on U.S. Airways. He has a neurological disorder that requires him to us eth wheelchair, but describes himself as very self-sufficient and independent. He says he filed a suit against the airline to ensure that no traveler ever faces discrimination based on a disability again.
“I was humiliated and frustrated,” Gates says of being turned away at the gate, in front of a long line of passengers. “There are no words to express how I felt that day.” Gates’ experience seems the antithesis of the U.S. Airways customer service policy. According to the company website, “Customer service has always been a priority at US Airways, and we are committed to making every flight count for our valued customers.” The company has almost 4,000 daily departures in the U.S.
Gates bought the first available ticket on another airline and flew to Wisconsin a few days later with no problems.
This incident serves as an important reminder to employers that both employees and customers with disabilities must be accommodated.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, employers cannot discriminate against disabled employees in hiring, promotions, pay or termination. The court ruled that the repeated taunts, teasing and name-calling created a “hostile work environment” for the disabled employee.
Under the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability. Reasonable accommodations might include providing a phone with a volume control for a hearing impaired employee, or a ramp for a wheelchair employee. In this case, reasonable accommodations were not the issue – childish insults were.
The ADA was enacted on July 26, 1990 and prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
“All individuals deserve the freedom to compete and advance in the workplace on a level playing field — including individuals with disabilities.” According to EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Suzanne M. Anderson. “Employers should proactively prevent disability discrimination by putting policies and procedures in place to ensure that employees and managers clearly understand and abide by the letter and spirit of the law.”
Disability discrimination is more common than most people realize. Since 1992, the EEOC has received more than 235,000 complaints alleging disability discrimination. The EEOC has filed more than 700 lawsuits and obtained just over $665 million for disabled employees.
The ODEP is the nation’s first assistant secretary-led office that specifically addresses policies that impact the employment of people with disabilities.
In recent years, the ODEP has developed innovative methods for the 3,500 One-Stop Career Centers nationwide to serve people with barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities. It has established DPNs, or Disability Program Navigators,
The Office of Disability Employment Policy provides national leadership by developing and influencing disability-related employment policy as well as practice affecting the employment of people with disabilities. Its vision is “A world in which people with disabilities have unlimited employment opportunities.”