Respond to Employee Restraining Orders

By Bill Wright

An employer will face a trial on whether it negligently supervised an employee’s co-worker.  The two workers had a relationship that ended when the man sexually assaulted the woman in her home.  After trips to the emergency room and the police (resulting in a criminal assault charge for the man), the employee obtained restraining order against him.  It was amended to include no contact at work and was provided to the employer.  Despite the restraining order, the employer allowed the man to change shifts and transfer to a work area closer to the woman.  The woman complained that she had almost run into the man twice, and finally, while she was in an employee break room to use the time clock, he came in and caused her fear and emotional distress.

On the negligence claim, the employer argued that it could not have foreseen that she would be in that break room. (She was only there because the time clock closest to her work was broken.)  Also, it argued it could not have foreseen that the man would be working at that time because he had picked up an extra shift.  The argument failed, and now the dispute will go to trial.

What should the employer have done?  The court took no position on whether the employer should have terminated or suspended the man on the basis of the restraining order, but it noted the disputed facts over the employer’s control over the workplace – the employer allowed the man to pick up extra shifts and overlap with her shift, and did not find a way to warn the woman about the man’s schedule.  An undercurrent in the order is whether the employer should have “investigated” the man upon learning of the sexual assault charge.  In short, the employer appears to have done nothing about the restraining order it received.  Brantley v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 16-350 (E.D. Pa. July 25, 2017).