Workplace Violence at Philadelphia Kraft Foods, Inc Results in Two Fatalities
On September 9, 2010, escalating workplace violence was again in the media spotlight. This latest incident occurred at the Kraft Foods, Inc., facility in northeast Philadelphia. Yvonne Hiller, a 15-year Kraft employee, received a suspension for an altercation with co-workers. Approximately 10 minutes after security escorted her from the plant, she drove her car through the security barrier and reentered the plant with a handgun. She opened fire, killing two co-workers and seriously injuring two others. An hour later, police took her into custody and charged her with two counts of murder, attempted murder and other unnamed charges.
Workplace violence is often at the forefront of the news these days. We live in an atmosphere of daily violence. Nationwide statistics indicate about 20 people a week die at their workplaces (Henderson & Suris, 1996) at the hands of co-workers and handguns are the weapon of choice in over 75 percent in these attacks (Winau & Toscano, 1994). What makes the September 9 attack a rarity is that a female committed the act. According to Dr. Park Dietz, a workplace violence expert, women committed less than 5 percent of acts of workplace violence over the last 30 years. Dietz also says, and research supports, that the potential for female violence is underestimated.
With the risk of harm to employees on the rise, employers must consider their liability in these scenarios. While most employers know that there are statutes governing health and safety hazards in the workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), they are not so aware of the fact that they have a duty to provide a safe workplace and safe employees. When a business fails to meet this duty, the employer is subject to principles of negligence, generally negligent hiring and negligent retention.
Courts in different jurisdictions are making sure employers take note of their responsibilities by finding employers liable in employer negligence lawsuits. There are distinct differences between the two most common legal actions, and that difference involves timing. Under the principle of negligent hiring, the employer fails to meet the duty of care before hiring the person, usually because the employer did not adhere to proper screening protocol that could have prevented the hire. Negligent retention occurs after the hiring. While the employer might not know at the time of hire that a person is unfit for employment, the employer is responsible for ensuring that others are out of harm’s way once an employee’s unfitness becomes obvious. Remedial measures include counseling, reassignment, training and termination. Unfortunately, management too ignores these signs until it escalates into a violent siege. Therein, is the culpability of the employer.
So how do employers avoid civil litigation due to violence that occurs in their place of business? Following are a few recommendations:
- Use thorough pre-employment screening standards
- Train all levels of management and employees in workplace violence and methods of prevention
- Exercise caution in downsizing and layoffs by demonstrating genuine concern and offering outplacement counseling
- Use a zero tolerance policy outlawing weapons on company grounds and visibly posting the policy on the grounds and in the facility
It is a tragic note to our society that violence now spills over into all aspects of life. Approximately one million employees are victims of violence annually. The Pennsylvania workplace violence attorneys at Cherry Fieger and Marciano, LLP are well versed in employer negligence. If you are the victim of workplace violence or if you lost an immediate family member due to a workplace siege, we are available to guide you through the legal process. We have a proven record of successful jury awards and settlements, and as officers of the court, we do not take the confidence of our clients lightly. Please feel free to call us at 1(888) 684-7192 for a free consultation about your rights under the law.