Workplace Violence Prevention and Protection

In the wake of the horrific movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in July, the shooting outside the Empire State Building in August and the unspeakable violence at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, many employers are giving additional thought to workplace violence.  The Aurora and Newtown shootings were not tied to an employment-related motive, but they did occur in a workplace.  The Empire State Building shooting, although employment-related, occurred near but not at the victim’s workplace.  In March of this year, the principal of a private school in Jacksonville, Florida was fatally shot by a teacher she had fired earlier in the day.  Workplace violence is the leading cause of workplace fatalities for women, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicides accounted for 18% of all workplace fatalities in 2010.

Sadly, it has become impossible to predict the violent intentions of some individuals, but it is possible to prepare your employees in the best practices of protecting themselves and their colleagues from incidents of violence.

  • Establish strong antiviolence policies and articulate them clearly in your company’s handbook.  Include zero-tolerance provisions regarding verbal harassment, abusive language and disorderly conduct.  These types of behaviors often precede more extreme violence.  It stands to reason that if handbook policies are enforced with termination or other sanctions as appropriate, then some potentially violent individuals may be released from employment before their actions can escalate.
  • Due to the increasing number of people who have obtained legal permits to carry a concealed weapon or to keep one in a vehicle, consider whether you want to adopt a company policy that will force these individuals to not bring their firearms on company property.  Will this be an offense that can result in termination?  How will you enforce the policy?  Will you conduct searches of employees and their personal property?  These are all issues to consider as you craft your policy.
  • Management should take strong steps to encourage employees to step forward and report acts of violence and to protect employees who report acts of violence from reprisals.  In its bulletin on Workplace Violence Prevention: Readiness and Response, the FBI suggests providing a drop box or other anonymous method for employees to use when they have observed behavior outside of the “norms.”
  • Limit workplace points of entry and exit and secure them as is feasible given your business activities.
  • Increase security, if necessary, when there has been a workplace termination or a confrontation with a customer who exhibits signs of a heightened violence potential.  The FBI bulletin provides many examples of behaviors that should draw increased scrutiny.
  • Train employees on actions to take if there is a violent incident in the workplace.  This would include ensuring that employees are aware of the location of all exits, memorizing the physical address of the workplace and any other geographic or location identifiers that would help emergency responders reach an office.  Training may require asking employees to consider in advance what their actions might be in multiple scenarios.  The FBI bulletin emphasizes the importance of training in improving outcomes in the event of an incident of workplace violence.

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