Safety in the Workplace

Employers need to be aware of their rights and obligations under the law both with regard to protecting both their employees and the company’s property and assets.

Employers have a legal obligation to keep their employees safe while they are at work. This obligation includes protecting employees from threats posed by both outsiders and fellow employees. This obligation also requires employers to take reasonable efforts to prevent workplace accidents and injuries by preventing, removing, or remedying unsafe conditions, such as slippery floors or exposed wiring. Taking precautions in these areas helps promote not only employee health and safety, but also employee productivity. Employees should not have to worry about their safety and health while at work. Workplace safety and workplace violence policies can set expectations, as well as identify reporting mechanisms for employees with concerns.

Many states recognize causes of action for negligent hiring and supervision, which can be asserted by employees who are hurt at work by co-workers or supervisors. Implementing actions such as employee background checks, applicant reference checks, and drug and alcohol free workplace policies can help prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place and provide legal defenses in the unfortunate event that they do occur and a claim arises.

Employers likewise have the desire to protect their own property, both tangible and intangible, from destruction and theft by employees and outsiders. An instinct employers may frequently have to protect the safety and security of their property is to install one or more types of surveillance systems. However, employers should be aware that installing these types of surveillance systems may trigger employee privacy concerns. Whether employers are monitoring employee use of company computers to ensure confidential information is not being emailed to improper sources, videotaping areas of its property to prevent theft, or tracking company vehicles through GPS technology, such actions might infringe upon employee privacy rights if not implemented appropriately. In certain instances, prior employee consent is required.

Other than implementing surveillance systems, employers can also utilize confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements to protect confidential information, important relationships, and intellectual property being created by employees. However, similarly to surveillance systems, employers must ensure that these agreements comply with all applicable state and local laws in order for the agreements to be effective and binding.

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