Considerations in Preventing and Responding to Workplace Violence

Barbara Richman SPHR
May 27, 2014 — 2,828 views  
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This article originally was published in the Memphis Business Journal.

With all of the latest advances in technology, suppose an announcement was made today touting a new device that is guaranteed to protect the workplace from the dangers of workplace violence, including the unthinkable potential of a deadly incident.

Employers would line up or hit the “Send” buttons on their computers to purchase this new product once available.

Currently, there is no panacea such as this new device or other one-size-fits-all developments. However, there are realistic approaches that employers can take to contribute to a safe environment and decrease the potential for violence.

These approaches work in conjunction with one another rather than as isolated efforts.

The following are questions for employers to consider when examining ways to prevent and respond to workplace violence:

1. Does the workplace reflect an environment of respect? In a respectful workplace, there is an expectation that all employees will act in a manner that demonstrates respect for others and the organization. It is understood that those in leadership positions will serve as role models and influence others by displaying respect in their day-to-day interactions.

2. Has a workplace violence policy been adopted and communicated? The policy should include information on topics, such as preventive measures, actions to be taken in the event of occurrences, types of conduct that will not be tolerated and discipline up to and including termination for violations. Since a broad range of behaviors constitute workplace violence, the policy should provide specific examples, such as physical assaults, threats, intentional damage of property and verbal abuse.

3. Do employees understand that they have a responsibility to report situations involving potential workplace violence and that that there will be no retaliation as a result of providing this information? These expectations and procedures for reporting incidents should be included in the workplace violence policy and reinforced in training and other organizational communications.

4. Have steps been taken to maximize the physical security of the workplace? Employers should examine their facilities and work sites to assess risks and determine the level of protection that is provided for employees and other individuals at these locations. As permissible under applicable state laws, there should be a ban or restrictions placed on weapons, firearms and similar items, materials and substances that can jeopardize workplace safety.

5. Are claims of workplace violence promptly investigated and corrective actions taken? Claims of this nature should be taken seriously and reported to the human resource department or other staff identified in the policy. Investigations should be handled in an expedient and objective manner and followed by corrective actions, as appropriate.

6. Has the organization identified and communicated information about resources that are available for employees who are dealing with stress and other issues that impact job performance? Employee assistance programs are an example of services that employers can provide to assist employees in areas, such as anger management, substance and alcohol abuse, financial matters and emotional problems.

7. Do supervisors and employees receive information and/or training on ways to prevent and respond to workplace violence? Topics that can be covered include the organization’s policy and identification of early warning signs. In addition, supervisors should gain an understanding of ways to diffuse troubling situations, foster open communications with employees and document effectively.

8. Has the employer been proactive in developing plans for responding to incidents that present an immediate danger to those in the workplace? A written policy and training are key components in planning. The organization can also implement other planning initiatives, such as appointing a crisis management team to assist in coordinating overall prevention and response efforts.

9. Have the recruitment and hiring processes been reviewed to determine if there are additional ways to identify applicants with a propensity for workplace violence? The review should assess all aspects of the process, including employment applications, interview questions, drug and alcohol screening, background investigations and reference checks.

10. What attention has the organization given to the potential for employment terminations to lead to workplace violence? Employers should anticipate that individuals who are terminated will have varying emotional reactions resulting from a severed employment relationship, concerns associated with a loss of income and uncertain prospects for the future. Based on this understanding and knowledge of the specific case, the organization should institute precautionary measures, as necessary, for safety purposes. Steps should also be taken to ensure that each individual is treated with respect by all involved in the termination process.

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Barbara Richman SPHR

HR Mpact

Barbara Richman, SPHR, is a senior consultant with HR Mpact, a human resource consulting firm, She can be reached at (901) 685-9084 or [email protected] This article has been written to provide readers with general information on the topic and is not intended to be used as a source of legal advice.