Workplace violence is becoming disturbingly commonplace. Many times, people equate workplace violence with violent physical acts, but it can also include disruptive behavior, intimidation, harassment, and threats of physical violence.
Workplace violence not only involves employees, but also clients and visitors to a job site. OSHA has stated that approximately 2 million Americans are the victims of workplace violence each year, and an estimated 1.7 million employees are injured as a direct result of physical assault.
These figures alone are disturbing enough, but how should human resource professionals address workplace violence within their own organizations?
Recognizing the Warning Signs
The first step to dealing with workplace violence within your own company is to recognize its warning signs. Behaviors that are often a precursor to workplace violence include:
- Obsession (romantic or otherwise) or the stalking of a fellow employee
- Having a history of violent or disturbing behavior
- Suicidal tendencies, extreme depression, or delusional behaviors
- Having extremely adverse reactions to constructive criticism or coaching
- Paranoid behaviors
- Stated fascination with weapons
- Implied or direct verbal threats against fellow employees, clients, or management
Of course, businesses want to provide a workplace that is free of violence for humanitarian purposes, but business owners or partners can face significant legal liability in the event that such an act happens.
Who Qualifies as a Vulnerable Employee?
Although it is often impossible to predict when and where workplace violence will occur, there are specific employees and workplace environments that have an increased risk for being victimized by workplace violence. Examples of employees who are at an increased risk include:
- Those who exchange funds with the general public
- Employees who deliver goods, services, or passengers
- Those who work in small groups or alone
- Working during the early morning or late night hours
- Working in high crime communities
- Having extensive contact with the general public
Specific professions that are considered exceptionally vulnerable to workplace violence include taxi drivers, retail employees, mail carriers, community workers, and social service workers.
How to Protect Employees From Workplace Violence?
The best method for protecting your employees from workplace violence to adopt a zero tolerance policy against workplace violence – with no exceptions. Workplace violence committed by, or against, your employees will not be allowed.
Each and every employee should understand that claims of workplace violence will be thoroughly investigated, and substantiated claims of violence will result in immediate termination.
Many experts in workplace safety recommend, for medium to large businesses, to establish a “threat assessment task force”. The members of this team are responsible for analyzing past incidences of violence in both the employer’s company and similar institutions within the community.
Other tasks that the team should be responsible for include identifying conditions, hazards, and operational circumstances that could potentially lead to violence within their specific business.
An effective program is going to require the installation and maintenance of closed circuit video monitoring systems, access to proper control devices, and effective communication means, like private channel radios that will enable them to communicate with one another in the event of a crisis.
Investments will also need to made into alarm systems and additional lighting for the business’s premises.
How Can Employees Protect Themselves?
Employees also need to be empowered by learning how to effectively protect themselves in the event that workplace occurs. Acceptable means of doing so include:
- Learning how to recognize and diffuse possibly violent situations
- Having direct access to managers and supervisors (via open door policies) in which to raise concerns about security or safety
- Avoiding traveling into unfamiliar situations or locations alone
- Ensuring that they carry only required ID and minimal money when in community settings
Training Is Crucial
If an organization’s zero tolerance policy is going to be effective, employees must be thoroughly trained on all of its ins and outs, and employers must:
- Publicly adopt a zero tolerance policy that specifically prohibits certain behaviors
- Identify each person’s obligation to report occurrences (whether perceived or actual) of workplace violence
- Outline within their policy how incidences of violence will be handled and how they will respond to those who have been affected by it
- Devise techniques for diffusing potentially violent situations
Of course, there is no one size fits all policy when it comes to dealing with workplace violence. When developing their own policy, each business must create the policy within the context of the particular risks associated with a profession, their facility’s unique layout, and their industry.
In the Event That the Unthinkable Happens…
Unfortunately, even with all of these precautions in place, no business can 100% guarantee the safety of their employees. Although most individuals will never experience an incident, whether minor or major, of workplace violence, it is important to create a plan on how to respond should a violent incident happen.
Should workplace violence occur, as a human resources manager, you must provide prompt medical evaluation and medical treatment to any employees who have been victimized. The local police must be called as quickly as possible, and a report should be filed.
Victims should also be informed of their legal right to prosecute the perpetrator(s).
In the aftermath of the event, you must discuss with your employees the incident itself and encourage dialogue among staff workers as to how to prevent such acts in the future. If the event affects multiple employees or is particularly traumatic, it would be wise to offer professional counseling services to all employees.
By taking proactive steps, you will significantly minimize the chances that your employees will be exposed to workplace violence.