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Employers risk liability for workplace violence

When Iowa employers perform background checks during the hiring process, they should consider records of violent behavior as a potential liability. A lawsuit working its way through the court system against Home Depot Inc. illustrates how an employer's responsibility to prevent harm to employees could even extend beyond the workplace. The home supplies retailer had tried to get the lawsuit dropped because the supervisor who killed a pregnant subordinate employee did so outside of work.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, however, has allowed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the victim's family to continue because the retailer allegedly had knowledge of the supervisor's harassment of the employee. According to court documents, multiple store managers were aware that the supervisor had verbally abused and intimidated the victim. The supervisor had been told to attend to anger management classes.

The decision of the appeals court emerged from the employer's apparent willingness to allow the harassment to continue. The supervisor retained the ability to fire the employee or threaten her with a cut in hours. She was allegedly forced to accompany the supervisor on a trip that ended in her murder at his hands. The employer's foreknowledge of the hostile situation has now exposed it to liability for the supervisor's conduct outside of work.

When a family loses a loved one due to the negligent or intentional act of another party, financial compensation could be recoverable pursuant to a wrongful death lawsuit. The types and amounts of damages that are allowed to be sought vary by state, but in most cases they include funeral and burial expenses and loss of financial contribution of the decedent.

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