Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Protecting Isolated Workers

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Jun 07, 2018

Many employers have employees whose ‘workplace’ activities isolate them from other employees, leaving them potentially more vulnerable to workplace violence or injury. These lone employees can include those who work:
  • In isolated areas of the employer’s workplace - such as a security guard making rounds at a site, or a miner in an isolated area.

  • At times when no co-workers are around - such as a late-working professional; a night janitor, nurse or security guard making rounds; or a hotel room service worker.

  • As the sole employee at a facility - such as late-night retail gas station or convenience stores.

  • Away from the home office, separated from co-workers and exposed to customers or others - law enforcement or security personnel on patrol, home-care health and social workers, taxi drivers, and traveling sales personnel.

Although isolation makes it inherently harder to protect these workers from harm and to respond to any incidents, employers still must provide them with reasonable levels of protection from workplace hazards. The following discussion synthesizes guidance from national agencies, and specific requirements adopted by a few jurisdictions to protect employees working alone or in isolation.

  • Who is “working alone?”

Definitions of “working alone” vary, but each incorporates some or all of the following circumstances:

• Worker is the only worker for that employer at that workplace, during any time period.

• Worker is not directly supervised, during at least part of work shift.

• Assistance is not readily available if there is an emergency.

• Conditions render this isolation potentially hazardous.

  • What employer actions can help?

Specific requirements that employers provide for isolated employees’ safety vary. For example, Manitoba requires the employer to:

  • Identify risks arising from the conditions and circumstances.

  • “So far as is reasonably practicable,” take steps to eliminate or reduce the identified risks.

  • Develop and implement safe work procedures to eliminate or reduce the identified risks.

  • Train workers in these safe work procedures.

  • Ensure that workers comply with these safe work procedures.

  • What are specific examples of workplace safety measures?

Workplace responses depend on circumstances. For example, if the isolated employee works in a single location, the location and workshift can be designed to reduce hazards. For example, New Mexico requires at least one of the following security measures be implemented in all convenience stores operating between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.:

  • Two-employee shift - two employees, or one employee plus onsite security personnel.

  • Controlled access area - this area must be behind bullet-proof glass or other similar material.

  • Pass-through window - transactions must be protected by bullet-proof glass or other similar material.

  • Alternative operations - the store may be closed for business, but employees allowed access for restocking or other duties, if signs are posted on all entryways saying the store is closed.

In other situations where the employee travels, for example to conduct a service or security sweep, there’s no single space to isolate but enhanced communication can reduce hazards. For example, Chicago’s new ordinance (dubbed the “pants on, hands off” requirement) requires hotels to do the following:

  • Develop, maintain and comply with a written anti-sexual harassment policy to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests, including instructions to leave threatening situations if possible, reporting procedures, onsite incident follow-up (immediate, and subsequently with law enforcement if applicable), and training regarding these procedures and employee rights (effective January 7, 2018).

  • Provide all employees with a current copy (in English, Spanish and Polish) of the hotel's anti-sexual harassment policy, and post copies in conspicuous places in areas of the hotel, such as supply rooms or employee lunch rooms (effective January 7, 2018).

  • Equip employees who are assigned to work in isolation in a guest room or restroom with a panic button or notification device (effective July 1, 2018)

Self-Assessment Checklist

Has the organization assessed work assignments and its facilities, to identify workers who may work alone or in isolation?

  • Are these assignments routine and ongoing, or infrequent?

  • Does the location contain inherent hazards (stairs, operating equipment, etc.) where mishaps or malfunctions can cause hazards?

  • Are the employees isolated from outside interventions (e.g., in a secured facility) or subject to interaction with outsiders (customers, clients, etc.)?

Has the organization identified specified hazards and their causes, and evaluated risk reduction measures?

  • Monitoring systems?

  • Staffing?

  • First aid and emergency procedures?

  • Workplace violence?

Has the organization developed risk reduction policies, plans and procedures?

Does the organization provide training and equipment to affected employees?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 13 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: spanaut winning via photopin (license)
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Tags: Workplace violence, Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices

Does Sex Discrimination Include Sexual Orientation – The Second Circuit Changes Sides

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Apr 24, 2018

Because federal anti-discrimination statutes include “sex” discrimination but do not define the term, its interpretation evolves with social and political changes, with policy changes by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which administers and enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a variety of subsequent laws, and with court decisions. A major present debate is whether “sex” encompasses “sexual orientation” – which would protect non-heterosexual employees against employment action based on their sexual orientation. On February 26, 2018 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its own precedent, and decided that homosexual employees are protected.

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Tags: Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices, EEOC, directors & officers, directors, Workplace violence

U.S. Senate Will Require Anti-Harassment Training

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Dec 12, 2017

Highly-publicized revelations about extensive workplace harassment have cost many alleged harassers their high-powered positions (including US Senator Al Franken), and are producing a variety of proposals to toughen standards. One of the first new provisions was enacted by the U.S. Senate on November 9. The Senate Anti-Harassment Training Resolution of 2017 (S.Res. 330) will require anti-harassment training in Senate offices. The Resolution applies to internal governance of the Senate, so does not apply to any other body, such as the House of Representatives (where House Resolution 630, requiring annual training by each member, officer and employee in employee rights, including anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, was passed on November 29 but is being reconsidered).

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Tags: Employee Rights, Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Workplace violence

New California Guidance For Workplace Anti-Harassment Efforts

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jun 27, 2017

Workplace violence prevention is increasingly recognized as one of many employer responsibilities for the safety and health of their employees. Different jurisdictions have focused on different types and degrees of “violence” – from deadly attacks to workplace rudeness and bullying. California has been a leader among U.S. jurisdictions. The state requires private employers with more than 50 employees, and all public employers, to train managers and supervisors at least every two years in how to avoid and prevent sexual harassment. Since 2015, this training must include “abusive conduct.”

Last year, the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) adopted a requirement that employers with five or more employees create detailed written policies for preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. This month, DFEH issued detailed guidance addressing these anti-harassment requirements. These new guidelines should be required reading for California employers, and non-California employers should take the opportunity to compare their own efforts against these recommended best practices.

What Are California’s Harassment Prevention Requirements?

Effective April 1, 2016, DFEH regulations require California employers with five or more employees to create detailed written policies for preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. DFEH claims finds authority for this requirement in the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibitions against discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and in FEHA’s requirement that employers “take reasonable
steps to prevent and correct wrongful (harassing, discriminatory, retaliatory) behavior in the workplace.”

Anti-harassment policies must do all of the following:

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Tags: Workplace violence, Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices, California Legislation

Buyer’s Guide to Active Shooter Coverage

Posted by STP Editorial Team on Tue, May 30, 2017

By Paul Marshall and Karen Masullo

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Tags: Workplace violence, Insurance, Insurance Claims

California Adopts Workplace Violence Prevention Requirements For Health Care Facilities

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Feb 09, 2017

Health care and social service workers suffer workplace violence at much higher rates than in most other sectors, because of the higher risk from their patients and clients. In response, worker protection laws and regulations have begun to require workplace violence prevention in these sectors. The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) just adopted a new regulation, implementing 2014 legislation that expands state requirements for hospital security plans, to include specified workplace violence prevention programs. Compliance begins in phases during 2017-2018, and will be administered by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA)).

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Tags: Workplace violence, Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices, OSHA, Health & Safety

Creating a Security-Conscious Community to Prevent Violent Acts in the Workplace

Posted by W. Barry Nixon on Tue, Nov 22, 2016

The time has come to shift our thinking about how to prevent violent attacks in the workplace. Business as usual will not keep our workplaces safe from terrorist attacks.

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Tags: Workplace violence, Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices

Suicide at Work: A Growing Problem in America

Posted by W. Barry Nixon on Tue, Mar 08, 2016

The reality is that suicide rates in the U.S. have gone up considerably in recent years, claiming an average of 36,000 lives annually.1 While most suicides take place at, or near, a person’s home, suicide on the job is also increasing according to federal researchers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workplace suicides rose to 282 in 2013 reaching the highest level since the numbers have been reported by the occupational fatality census. In 2014, the suicide rate went down slightly to 271, which is the second highest level since the records have been kept. The annual average number of suicide deaths that occurred at work during the time period 2003 – 2014 is 237. Between 2003 and 2014 there were a total of 2,848 suicide deaths that occurred at work.2 The rise in suicide rates at work is even more significant when taken in the context that overall homicides in the workplace have been steadily decreasing since the mid-nineties.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Workplace violence

California Proposes Workplace Violence Prevention Requirements For Healthcare Facilities

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

Employees in the health care and social service sectors suffer workplace violence at much higher rates than in most other sectors, largely because of the higher risk from their patients and clients. In response to these risks, worker protection agencies and professional organizations have developed guidelines for workplace violence prevention in these sectors. Increasingly, worker protection laws and regulations are being revised to require these activities. Most recently, in December 2015 California has proposed to expand state requirements for security plans to include explicit workplace violence prevention programs.

Existing Requirements For Security Plans

California adopted hospital security plan requirements in 1993. Since 2010, these require state-licensed hospitals to implement security plans, including all of the following actions: Read More

Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights, California Legislation, EHS, Workplace violence

Live Shooting Tragedy at WDBJ-TV: Why Reference Checking Matters

Posted by W. Barry Nixon on Mon, Dec 14, 2015

It’s exceedingly difficult to predict workplace violence, and there is no easy solution to stop it altogether, however, reference checking is a preventative step that employers can take to reduce the risk. I would add that, in my professional opinion, many workplace violence incidents could be prevented if employers took the necessary precautions before an incident actually unfolded.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, Employee Rights, Workplace violence