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The setting: a group home for juvenile males.

The situation: they are court ordered to be there.

The problem: they verbally abuse staff on a daily basis, and in some instances, physically abuse staff.

The clients receive a handbook with the rules and policies. There are numerous rules, one of which us they are not allowed to bull each other or make inappropriate comments.

However, there is no rule stating they have to respect staff. They don't mind reminding you of this as they disrespect you. Management is aware of the situation and their response to us is "don't take it personally," even when we are verbally abused with racial slurs.

Can an employer be held accountable in civil court for their clients' actions? If they don't utilize their own tools and policies to prevent the behavior?

  • What state are you in? Some states have laws - in addition to federal laws - that may bear on this. Does your staff handbook (if they gave you one) say anything about work conditions and abuse from clients? What about your employment contract? – BlueDogRanch Nov 18 '16 at 1:03
  • Which country are you in. In England and Wales (and also Scotland I think), the answer is yes (under Health and Safety laws). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 18 '16 at 17:43
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If you are in Australia, a person controlling a business or undertaking (read employer here) has a legal responsibility to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and welfare of their workers and persons affected by their operations (the residents).

To discharge their responsibility they need to write a list of ever risk they can think of (verbal and physical abuse in this case), consult with their workers and together come up with things they can do to eliminate the risk or manage the risk if it cannot be eliminated. If those things are reasonable then they have to do them. Some things that occur to me are:

  • Training in conflict resolution
  • Counseling services for the workers
  • Changing the rules that apply to the residents
  • setting up procedures for interaction and response plans
  • etc.

If a worker is injured (including emotionally or psychologically) then there is mandatory workers compensation insurance that applies.

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In the US, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment in the workplace (my emphasis)

...is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

• The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

• Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

From https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm

IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but it appears, from your description, that you could be suffering from workplace harassment in several different forms and your workplace could be in violation of several different federal laws. Your state may also have laws that compliment these federal laws.

Your employer should have safeguards in place in the form of handbooks for clients and staff, disciplinary procedures for violators, and grievance processes for staff. These will be required both by law and by the employer's insurance policy that covers the workplace, the clients and the staff for forms of injury and liability.

If your workplace supervisors are not responsive to the incidents of harassment (and it appears they are not):

1) I suggest you contact the civil rights commission in your state, and talk to pro-bono law clinics if you can't afford a lawyer, though many lawyers will take an initial look into a case at no charge.

2) Start to record in written form - and audio and video, if you safely can - these incidents of harassment for use as evidence. And write down past incidents as you remember them.

And, as pointed out above:

Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

So if you are harassed by your employer for confronting him/her over the harassment from clients, that's a separate incident and possible violation of law, too. Record those incidents, too.

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