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Safe Harbor

As if it weren't bad enough to have someone "go postal" at your workplace, you can be held liable for the injury and death.

This story appears in the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Just after Christmas, a programmer at Edgewater Technology, an Internet consulting firm in Wakefield, Massachusetts, grabbed three guns, strode down the hall and shot seven co-workers. Two weeks later, an angry convenience store owner in Houston showed up at Amko Trading, one of his wholesalers, and shot the couple who owned it, their daughter and himself. All four died.

The scenario is frighteningly common. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 1,000 homicides in American workplaces occurred from 1992 to 1996. During the same time period, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 2 million American workers per year were victimized while working. That in itself is worrisome for employers, whether they become targets themselves or have to cope with repercussions and remorse if an employee or customer is injured or killed. But then there's the legal side. When there's violence in the workplace, employers can be held liable for failing to screen job applicants carefully enough, failing to recognize problem employees and take action, or failing to maintain adequate security.

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