Recent events in the world have many employers thinking
about gun violence and what appropriate measures to take to ensure their
workplace is a safe place for employees, clients, vendors and all others who
enter. While protecting against gun
violence at work is a serious, important, and timely topic, violence at work in
general is equally important and worthy of discussion.
Workplace violence is defined by the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) as any act or threat of physical violence,
harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs
on the work site. The general types of violence experienced at work include
random criminal acts, violence by a co-worker, customer, or client, or violence
resulting from a personal situation (i.e., domestic violence or stalking). Violence can involve employees, supervisors,
customers, contractors, vendors, visitors, or strangers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
in 2016 there were 792 incidents of intentional injury, 500 resulting in
homicide; this represents an increase of 23% and 20% respectively over the
prior year. Other incidents of workplace violence not
typically reported or included in the statistics above include fighting,
confrontation, berating, arguing, and sexual assault. The impact on employees can include physical
or psychological harm, absences, medical costs, and long-term stress or
anxiety. But, even though an estimated 2 million American workers are impacted
by workplace violence each year, only 25% of companies spend time and resources
to make a plan and take preventative action.
While workplace violence can occur at any company in any
industry or location, jobs that involve exchanging money in public, serving
alcohol, working with volatile or unstable people, working alone or in isolated
areas, working late at night, or working in a high-crime area carry more
risk. Healthcare professionals, public
service workers, customer service employees, teachers, janitorial staff, and
law enforcement officers have the highest risk due to a combination of factors.
Companies can feel impacts including property damage, loss
of inventory, reduction in staff, increased security and insurance costs, legal
exposure and costs, damage to a company’s reputation, or an inability to
operate business for some time. Companies should take measures to protect
employees and help prevent or reduce the chance of incident, escalation, and harm.
The following measures can help:
1. Company Policies:
Strong, well-worded policies can send a powerful message to employees and give you
a formidable basis to prevent workplace violence or to be able to stop it
before it escalates. You should be sure
your handbook has essential policies including Workplace Safety, Weapons,
Searches, Harassment/Sexual Harassment, Visitors, Code of Conduct, and
Disciplinary Action. Ensure every
employee receives a handbook and signs an acknowledgement of receipt of the
handbook stating they will comply with all the policies. And if you are missing any of these policies,
now is the time to put them in place and, again, have employees acknowledge the
new policy once it is implemented.
2. Hiring Practices:
Knowing who you are hiring allows you get an understanding of who will be
working with you before they enter your workplace. Incorporating comprehensive criminal
background checks and conducting professional and personal reference checks
will allow you to gather information about a potential employee’s past and
disposition. While you may not find out
everything, it is an important step to minimize your exposure to a claim of negligent
Action: Take a zero-tolerance stance on violence, threats, harassment, or
intimidation. Do not allow a situation
to escalate or be repeated by stepping in as soon as it is known. If the situation involves two employees,
separate, investigate, and take decisive disciplinary action. If a non-employee is involved, have the
individual removed and prevent the individual from coming back. If a vendor, contractor, or client is
involved, review the business relationship.
Companies can have legal exposure to negligent retention claims if
employees or business relationships are maintained after knowledge of violent
or threatening behavior.
Measures: Implement practices to help keep your work site and employees
safe. Install security cameras and a security
system with keys or access badges. Make
sure no one works alone if possible. Hire
security guards. Assess the location before committing to a work space. Keep minimal money on hand. Post signs
stating measures taken to deter offenders.
Weapons: Create and enforce a zero-tolerance no-weapons policy as strict as
possible to cover all weapons including firearms, knives, and explosives. In most states you can restrict weapons
completely from company property and company vehicles. However, some states require permitted gun
owners to be allowed to leave their firearms locked and out of sight in their
personal vehicle in the parking lot.
Program: Create a thorough safety program covering any situation. Include procedures, contacts, phone numbers,
forms, etc. Outline the expectations,
roles, and responsibilities of employees and managers. Make sure employees know
they can call 9-1-1 whenever they feel the need. Communicate this plan to everyone and make
sure they know where to find the information if needed. The Department
of Labor and Department
of Homeland Security have comprehensive programs online that you can pull
information from to develop yours.
Training: Train employees what to do if faced with different situations so
they do not need to make uneducated decisions in the moment. Consider bringing in experts to provide
active shooter situation training such as the “Run. Hide. Fight”
concept promoted by the Department of Homeland Security.
Programs: Assess your benefit offerings to include programs that employees
would need if faced with workplace violence.
Along with Workers’ Comp, health and disability insurance, consider
offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or legal insurance.
During these difficult times, proactive planning, policies, action,
and training are not only good business sense to minimize exposure but are
vital to keeping your employees and workplace safe.
By Paige McAllister, SPHR, SHRM-SCP – Affinity HR Group,