Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a $330,000 penalty assessed against Family Dollar following the death of an employee involved in a shoplifting incident. OSHA claims that the employee experienced shortness of breath following an attempt to keep the shoplifter from leaving the store. The employee later died at a local hospital. OSHA classified the citation as willful, noting locked exits and obstructed aisles as contributing factors to the incident and claiming that the employee was effectively entrapped with the shoplifter.
OSHA has not published a specific safety standard for workplace violence, and citations directly based on an employee’s exposure to such violence can only be brought under the General Duty Clause. By basing the citations here on allegedly locked exits and obstructed pathways, OSHA may be attempting to avoid the higher legal burden required for General Duty Clause violations.
Many retailers and hospitality industry employers have strict policies that prohibit employees from engaging in physical confrontations with shoplifters or other types of criminal conduct. These policies primarily protect the employees and avoid liability claims associated with such confrontations. This citation may be a signal from OSHA that failure to discourage employees from confronting suspected criminals may also result in significant workplace safety penalties.