Workplace safety in Indiana is under threat. That is the concern of some over a case reported by The National Law Review. In Indiana the state Court of Appeals has vacated a trial court’s injunction under Indiana’s Workforce Violence Restraining Orders Act (WVROA) that sanctioned a worker who had threatened to “blow off the head” of his supervisor.
Threat or Labor Dispute?
Put in the briefest possible terms, the court simply said the case was not about workplace violence; it was a labor dispute. The issue revolved around an argument over work assignments, favoritism and a previous work injury in which the employee was urged to see the company doctor. The employee preferred his own personal physician. The supervisor found the employee disruptive, and had called the employee’s behavior loud and disrespectful.
Seeking assistance from the company’s therapist under the Employee Assistance Program, both employee and therapist escalated their actions. It was alleged that the employee heatedly told the therapist he was going to blow off his supervisor’s head. Alarmed, the therapist called the company’s human resources re-stating the threat and warning that she could not predict what the employee “might do next.”
The human resources department responded by filing a petition against the employee the day after hearing from the therapist. The company felt the petition was authorized under the above-mentioned WVROA. It enjoined the employee from entering the grounds or buildings of the company. The trial court complied with the company’s request. The employee’s appeal sent the case to the appellate court.
Appeals to the Letter of the Law
In the Court of Appeals, arguments revolved not around the threat itself, but the circumstances that led the employee to allegedly make it. The court maintained that the dispute with his supervisor came about because of work place assignments. Here the appeals court reversed the trial court’s injunction based again on the WVROA law itself (Indiana Code §34-26-6-0.5). The law specifically states that it does not apply to contests “involving or growing out of a labor dispute.” Again, as emphasized above, the court of appeals deemed the case to be a labor dispute, not the alleged threat. In rendering their opinion, the court further cited the Anti-Injunction Act on Indiana’s books, which does not allow courts to issue restraining orders in labor disputes.
The court of appeals prevailed in saying the employer failed to show, under specific provisions of the Anti-Injunction Act, that the standard of continuous threat and police inability to protect the complaining party had been met. Though Appeals, in strictly interpreting the statutes, concluded the injunction of the trial court was improperly entered, debate on whether the employee’s behavior was properly assessed will no doubt continue.