This guest post was authored by Judith Islas
A recent California Court of Appeal ruling provides employers an important weapon to combat workplace violence. The Court in Kaiser Foundation Hospitals v. Wilson ruled that courts may consider and rely on hearsay evidence to grant workplace violence restraining orders and injunctions. This is a significant departure from the usual rule that hearsay cannot be admitted into evidence or relied on to support a Court order.
As with all workplace violence cases, the facts are not pleasant. After Kaiser terminated his wife, Jeff Wilson became irate, started making violent threats toward Kaiser employees, including that he was going to “kill someone” “going to flip his lid” and “do something he would regret.” Wilson also reportedly told his therapist he was going to shoot a Kaiser employee. In response, Kaiser sought and obtained a temporary restraining order and then a permanent injunction, barring Wilson from Kaiser facilities and from any contact or communication with Kaiser employees.
Wilson challenged the Court’s temporary restraining order and permanent injunction, arguing they were based on hearsay statements that cannot be admitted into evidence or relied on by the Court. Kaiser acknowledged that most of the evidence was hearsay– threats Wilson reportedly made to employees who did not testify– but argued courts may consider and rely on hearsay when granting workplace violence restraining orders and injunctions.
In a somewhat surprising, but welcome ruling, the Court of Appeal agreed with Kaiser, expanding an employer’s ability to obtain workplace violence temporary restraining orders and permanent injunctions. The Court reasoned that under the hearsay rule (Evidence Code section 1200) hearsay is generally inadmissible, “except as provided by law.” Since the statute governing workplace violence hearings (Code of Civil Procedure section 527.8) expressly provides: “At the hearing, the judge shall receive any testimony that is relevant” it is one of the exceptions to the general rule that hearsay is inadmissible. This exception is logical, the Court explained, because the whole point of the workplace violence statute is to prevent workplace violence and the Court’s ability to consider all relevant testimony strengthens its ability to protect employees from violence.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO EMPLOYERS
The Kaiser case increases employers’ ability to obtain workplace violence restraining orders and injunctions, but also increases their responsibility to seek such orders, because employers can rely on any relevant evidence, not only admissible relevant evidence. If an employer has relevant evidence of violence or credible threats of violence in the workplace, it should not disregard that evidence or decline to seek a restraining order simply because the evidence is hearsay. The failure to seek a workplace violence restraining order and permanent injunction when the employer is on notice of violence or credible threats of workplace violence, can result in liability.