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Orlando Terrorist Incident a Reminder for Employers

In the wake of what has been condemned as the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, we should all be reminded of our duty to respond appropriately to suspicious behavior. Media outlets are now reporting that Omar Mateen worked as a security guard in Florida for British firm G4S since 2007. According to news reports, in the years prior to the attack in Orlando, at least one former co-worker had made complaints to management at G4S that Mateen used racial, ethnic and sexist slurs and talked about killing people. Although G4S is not responding to questions about Mateen’s conduct raised by the former co-worker, employers should take a moment to make sure they  have procedures in place for reporting and responding to complaints about employee behavior, whether through a non-harassment/discrimination policy or procedure or a non-violence policy or procedure.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act require employers to provide a working environment free from harassing behavior. As part of this obligation, employers should have a written policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, height, weight, and marital status.

Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide a safe workplace free from recognizable hazards that may cause death or serious harm to employees. Under OSHA, an employer may be on notice of a risk of workplace violence if it receives complaints of threats, intimidation or other indicators of potential violence. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the risks associated with workplace violence can be minimized if employers maintain a written zero-tolerance workplace violence policy that is applied to all employees, contractors, visitors, customers and anyone else who comes into contact with company personnel. As with complaints of harassing behavior, employers should carefully investigate and respond to any complaints of threatening or intimidating behavior, implementing appropriate discipline if necessary to end the behavior.

If management receives information that an employee has made threats of violence or exhibited other behavior that would indicate that the employee intends to commit a crime, management needs to take action. Such action may be immediately contacting the appropriate law enforcement agency, as well as enforcing its own internal employment policies.

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