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Straight to the Point: What level of responsibility does an employer in the U.S. (New York State) have if an employee (full-time) alerts them to someone potentially stalking them and who might act out in violence of some sort? Is it basically a case of they protect their facilities and if someone gets in then interloper is basically trespassing and that’s it? I—and others—in the U.S. are basically “hired at will” resources and there is just so much that can be done in a case like this?


Details and Background: I was recently contacted at work by someone in my family I am willfully estranged from (for 10+ years at this point t) and someone who I have threatened with a restraining order if they contacted me ever again. They were abusive to me—and others in my childhood—and after about 30+ years of dealing with their nonsense, I had enough.

This person most likely obtained my work email address via the organizations company address. I did not work for my current employer 10+ years ago so it’s the most likely reason. I actually have no problem with this. While I use a pseudonym on sites like this, my “real world” presence is quite glib and transparent. I find that this level of honest exposure to have been effective in dealing with nonsense like this in my life.

In this case, this family member wanted to return some documents to me that they knew I would want; these are not financial documents but rather personal documents connected to deceased relatives I had good relation with.

Not wanting to have these documents get lost to the B.S. of time/family nonsense I directed this family member to mail me these documents to a P.O. box I maintain; I would rather get these personally important documents than have to deal with estate/probate B.S. messes in the future.

That said, I told my immediate supervisor about this email contact and I explained that there is a good chance this unwanted family member might want to confront me at work. I’m hoping this won’t happen, but have to be realistic.

The response I received was basically a fairly lukewarm answer along the lines of: “There’s just so much the organization can do past ensure normal access controls are in place.” Which practically boils down to I am free to contact security or local police if an actual incident happens but past that, there is not much I can expect my employer to do past the basic workplace controls.

The building I work in has basic—but lackadaisical—security on the ground floor that is easy to get past and the access to my floor/department is pass card/ID card protected but is also staffed with a receptionist who simply opens the door at will. For all intents and purposes, this access “controls” are not really strongly enforced. Thus my question regarding employer responsibility.


Postscript for Armchair Second Guessers: The reason I have not actually filed a restraining order is based on my experience of knowing that providing proof in a case like this is sadly best handled after an actual incident happens. Otherwise, attempting to get a restraining order over a shouting match is just a big legal mess with questionable outcomes/results.

So in an odd way, if the antagonist in this mess suddenly appears at my place of work this could all actually be a blessing in surprise!

And for anyone who wants to second guess the “tactical/strategic” nature of an act of contact like this, I will just say I am not stating the complete picture due to discretion and personal safety. Rest assured I know how this person behaves, have dealt with them in the past and—sadly—know how to deal with their nonsense on many different levels.

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    I would think their responsibility is limited. They should treat this person like any other visitor and maintain that level of security, but at the end of the day, this person has not broken any laws (at least from your information), so I don't think the company has any standing to treat them differently. Certainly can't hold them responsible for possibly matching this person to a photo. – cdkMoose May 3 '17 at 20:52
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    This feels more like a legal question than a workplace question since the primary focus of this is on legal responsibility and authority of your employer to protect you. – leigero May 3 '17 at 21:07
  • Questions surrounding this that would be acceptable here: What should I do about informing my employer? How can/should I address this issue with my employer? Question that would work on law SE: What does the law say my employer is required to do to protect me in this situation? But the question asked here is the very definition of requesting legal advice. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 4 '17 at 17:33
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I'm not sure what you are asking your employer to do here and what kind of responsibility you would like to impose. I don't see much that your employer could actually do about a potential assault.

If it were me, I'd certainly contact security ahead of time, rather than waiting for something to happen.

And I'd ask the front desk to be on the lookout for this individual, perhaps giving them a photo with instructions to notify you immediately if this person shows up.

And I'd be prepared to call the police immediately if I truly expected violence and if I heard that this family member was present at the front desk.

I'm not sure there's much else to be done here unless and until a crime is actually committed.

You might reconsider the restraining order. I do know from experience that the police tend to pay more attention if there is an existing order in place.

  • Thanks Joe. But when you say, “…reconsider the restraining order.” Do you mean actually getting one? Believe me, I want one. But have talked to friends who are lawyers and they basically said that based on all the pieces of the puzzle at this point, getting one in the area I live is not easy. I sound like I am speaking double-speak, but basically I want to give details without giving away the full, personal stuff. Thanks for the answer. – JakeGould May 4 '17 at 1:01
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    The restraining order might actually make things easier for people trying to help you in general (coworkers, company security and lastly police). Otherwise they might not even be allowed to help you, depending on the location. If you don't want one, you can try to figure out, if your employer can ban them from entering the premises, but that might need at least some incident you can refer to that happened on those premises first, to be legal. Depending on your jurisdiction, of course. – skymningen May 4 '17 at 12:00
  • @skymningen Oh, I don’t disagree. But the reality is there are a few enablers in this person’s life that would make the process of getting a restraining order—without an actual incident happening—difficult. Anyway, yes… I agree. A restraining order would help. How to get that will be something I need to pursue a bit more vigorously. – JakeGould May 4 '17 at 14:06
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Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and the overall mood of this question seems to be of a legal nature and may not fit on this site.

The employer's lukewarm mood is likely because they can't really do much about the situation for several reasons:

  1. Nobody has done anything illegal or threatening yet.
  2. They are not law enforcement, and cannot take the law into their own hands.
  3. If there is building security, I would think this is the kind of thing they should be hired to take care of, but even if you provided a photo and told them you don't feel comfortable around the person it is unlikely they can do anything about it considering you don't have a restraining order. The one saving grace here is that it would be well known that they have no business to attend to within the building and could be denied access as a result.

If you are genuinely concerned about your well being I would recommend getting the restraining order if things continue. To my knowledge, your employer has no responsibility to control domestic disputes within the office before they happen and likely have no jurisdiction to do anything other than ask the person to leave and threaten to press charges for trespassing.

  • “To my knowledge, your employer has no responsibility to control domestic disputes within the office before they happen…” Pretty much my thoughts as well. – JakeGould May 3 '17 at 22:24
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I've worked for companies that had policies regarding this sort of thing, but I don't think there are any over arching labor laws.

Some of these policies included things like:

  • Never giving out an employees personal information (phone number, address, etc)
  • Not giving information on where an employee is at the moment.
    • If not in office, they're just not in the office. It's not acceptable to tell people where they might be.
    • Even when the employee is in office, take the visitors name and ask the employee if they would like to meet with said person, rather than just telling the visitor to head on back.
  • Never giving out work schedules. (see point above)

Most of these things are just common sense and good business practice. Even assuming that a visitor is dropping in for business purposes, it's a good idea to make sure that they were expected and that you're prepared to greet them.

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