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Ignorance is the Opposite of Bliss

May 19th, 2011

There are a number of sociologists that are of the belief that crime creates criminals rather than criminals create crime. For example; have you ever eaten garlic before attending a movie theatre? I would think that for 99% of the people asked would say yes. Surely this isn’t criminal behavior and certainly nobody would be viewed as such in committing this act, right? Not in Gary, Indiana. This is an actual crime and although this law would never be upheld or executed, the fact that it is a state law means that you could be charged. The purpose of this anecdote is not to tell you about weird laws in different places, but to give an example that would support the theory that the aforementioned sociologists are speaking about. The argument could be made that we were unaware of this law and because of that; the intent was never there to commit a criminal act. But if there is one thing we do know about law, it is that ignorance is not a defense. Having said this; can we conclude that if we are aware of every law conceivable, do we have an advantage? Absolutely; and there is no difference in the workplace. It is this knowledge and awareness that can help prevent violence in any capacity; by looking past the slogan of “ZERO TOLERANCE” and amending, updating, improving it by using “ZERO IGNORANCE.”

The days of associating workplace violence with a gun-wielding disgruntled employee are long over. Workplace violence now wears a variety of hats and is more prevalent than ever before. Why is that you may ask? Some may argue that the obvious reason is due to stricter policies which of course lead to a much longer list of rules. It’s quite simple; consequences for certain behaviors in the past would result in anything from; going unnoticed to having a moment of popularity in the form of laughter by both coworkers and management. Employees simply got away with it and in some cases rewarded for it. The reality is that similar behavior in today’s workplace can now lead to immediate dismissal.

This is in no way an attempt to undermine the authority or spirit of Bill 168. It is quite clear that the new legislation was implemented for good reason and we are all too aware of the sobering origins of its birth. However we simply cannot ignore the fact that these modifications are nothing short of a workplace revolution and anyone that has been a part of the work force in any capacity for the past 10 years is going to feel a little culture shock regardless of their position within the organization.

As the rulebook expands; however, so do the players and the field. The definition of the workplace now extends beyond the walls that surround the capital. Our employees must be protected in all areas throughout their work day such as parking lots, garages, surrounding areas and with the increasing demand of offsite assignments we must also ensure safety in their travels. In addition, we now must broaden our focus on more than just our employees – we need to be aware of our clients, customers, family members, acquaintances, even strangers walking through the area as well as the potential of domestic violence spilling over into the workplace.

No type of business is impervious to the threat of workplace violence. We have witnessed it in hospitals, law firms and the manufacturing industry. The major component that is universal is the advantages that an efficient accessible proactive plan can garner. Employees that feel safe and protected at work are healthier and overall more productive. A good plan and policy will also reduce absenteeism, employee turnover, as well as WSIB cases. It will also reduce any type of litigation claim for inadequate security, as the organization will clearly be able to prove they have done their due diligence to ensure their employees safety. This in turn will also reduce time off due to mental health issues and stress related injuries because of the fact that employees will be less likely to encounter a threatening consequence during their workday, but most importantly, addressing the issues of workplace violence in an effective involved way can save lives.

Management must utilize all resources in order to remain aware of any warning signs. If there are multiple shifts, there should be constant communication among the supervisors. The organization can create (volunteer or designated) a cross departmental core team to be activated in any situation of violence from moderate to severe and ensure continuous productive communication. The warning signs are of no value if they go unnoticed, and they can expose themselves in many ways. If an employee becomes withdrawn to the point where they are clearly out of character, this must be addressed in a non-controlling, non-accusatory and non-disciplinary fashion. Another issue that must be taken seriously if presented is any type of domestic issue an employee might be involved in outside the workplace. If the employee (victim) has in fact moved out of the house due to abuse, it is commonplace for the abuser to appear at the victim’s workplace because they can guarantee the victim’s attendance. There must also be a continuous awareness of any political issues that might create resistance from any lobbyist groups or demonstrators of any kind. Depending on the severity and controversy level of the issue, this too can lead to violence within the workplace.
In this day and age, it is easy to blame the escalating violence within the workplace on the economy and the fact that people are subjected to more stress and driven to commit ‘out of character’ acts due to financial hardship. Although this is certainly a factor, it is not the sole justification. What about employees on fixed income in the government sector? They celebrate job security due to the fact that the infrastructure needs to continue forward regardless of the economy. In some cases a bad economy can actually further secure one’s position and ensure additional business such as policing or security.

The one thing that is expected is the inconsistency and number of changing factors that are involved; everything from the economy to (literally) spilt milk. We never know when somebody might become irrational to the point of violence at work, so we must prepare ourselves as best, utilize our resources to their fullest potential and be aware of any impending threats. With a good policy in place, prudent protocols, and maintaining good security and training we can put everyone in the organization on the same page as far as awareness and reaction practices. When it comes to workplace violence, status and rank must be ignored, as we all have the same goal.

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