Bob Goodlatte: Providing more information for a safer workplace

bob goodlatteAmericans work an average of 8.9 hours each day. That’s no small amount of time, and we all deserve to know that our work environments are safe from those whose behavior may cause us harm.

However, if you’re an employer, or have been in the position to hire someone, you likely know how difficult it is to get any information about an applicant from past employers beyond the mere basics like name and dates of employment. In many cases, employers may refrain from reporting negative information regarding an employee’s violent or threatening behavior because they fear lawsuits by those employees. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management has conducted surveys of employers and found that 75 percent of human resource managers reported they never disclosed information to potential employers regarding an employee’s violent behavior.

While as an employer I was aware of these challenges, the consequences of this lack of information were made devastatingly clear when tragedy struck close to home last year. OnAugust 26th, a disgruntled former employee of Roanoke television station WDBJ killed two station employees and wounded one other individual while they conducted a live interview for the morning broadcast. Various reports indicate the perpetrator had a history of violent behavior with previous employers, but that history was not shared with his future employers, including WDBJ.

Employees who are violent on the job shouldn’t be able to hide their actions from future employers. The Safe Harbor for Reporting Violent Behavior Act, which I introduced last week, allows a former employer to tell potential future employers, without the threat of being sued, about actual violent acts by the employee in question. To be clear, this “safe harbor” would only apply to reports in good faith. My legislation is directly modeled on a bipartisan measure, signed into law in 2007, which provides a safe harbor from lawsuits to those who report suspicious behavior on public transportation systems.

It’s important for potential employers to get the full picture. The Safe Harbor for Reporting Violent Behavior Act is a vital step toward allowing more employers to report violent or threatening behavior, including behavior resulting from mental illness, so those who need help will be encouraged to seek it and others will not be put in danger. While this legislation stemmed from tragedy, I am hopeful that its purpose will result in a more truthful dialogue between employers and greater protections for hardworking Americans against those who pose a risk of violence in the workplace.

Bob Goodlatte represents the Sixth District of Virginia in Congress.