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Workplace Violence – The Denial in Small to Mid-Sized Companies

November 23rd, 2015 Comments off

With the horrific events of violence that occur now almost weekly, too many mid-sized companies still think it will only happen in larger organizations.  Violence is a critical issue for all employers to deal with regardless of size. The dynamics that drive this violence are human reactions to conditions that exist with any employer. One of the biggest mistakes that many organizations make is remaining in denial. Yes, it is an unpleasant topic to talk about, let alone make policy on, but you are taking a huge financial risk by not recognizing that it could happen in your workplace and failing to develop prevention strategies to reduce those chances. This risk is especially significant to smaller organizations that are less likely to be able to withstand the loss of a lawsuit should something happen. Your only defense against being found negligent and liable in court if something does happen is to have done the necessary risk assessment to overcome a reasonable foreseeability argument. You will also need to document that you have a workplace violence prevention program in place, even a simple one. Granted, larger companies have numerical probability working against them due to the number of employees they have. However, low probability of occurrence due to your limited numbers of employees is not a defense.

Maybe your organization doesn’t need to have a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. If you have never had:

  • Crime in your neighborhood
  • A domestic violence situation with one of your employees
  • Fired anyone
  • A crime happen in your business
  • One of your employees stalked
  • An irate customer threaten one of your employees
  • A bully in your ranks
  • An employee use aggressive, intimidating language or action against another

If your company hasn’t experienced any of the above, then maybe your organization is immune. But I don’t think that is possible! Yes, all of those things listed can lead to workplace violence and will be looked at in court as contributing to reasonable foreseeability. Furthermore, when you preach to your employees that they are your most valued assets, as so many smaller companies like to do, what message are you sending them when you do not address violence prevention?

All organizations need a workplace violence prevention program that involves everyone! Don’t just write a policy statement and put it in a handbook. How often, after a tragic violent incident, do people who are interviewed say something like “I knew he would do something like this” or “he always made me afraid”? Often those who are in the best position to recognize problem behavior from an individual are the employees who engage with them every day. They know something is wrong but may keep quiet about their concerns. They expect that someone should be doing something about an issue but don’t know what to report, or to whom. This is not the employee’s fault. If they haven’t been made aware through the workplace violence prevention policy that they have a responsibility to report certain things, then they cannot help reduce the problem.

Let’s just take the example of not reporting inappropriate aggression or bullying. This can stem from a number of reasons including but not limited to:

  • Fear of repercussions from the individual in question
  • Not knowing when a behavior is deemed unacceptable and must be reported
  • Not knowing to whom or how to report the behavior
  • No assurance that there will be follow up by a supervisor or management

All of these reasons can be addressed with an effective workplace violence prevention policy that is enforced and is an employment compliance requirement. Ironically, this is even easier to implement in smaller organizations versus large ones. Workplace violence prevention policies must address inappropriate intimidation through language, gestures, direct and indirect threats, or any other aggressive conduct that instills fear into employees. This fear can be coming from an internal or external source. Not only should all employees be trained in what to look for but also they should be required to report the problem to supervisory personnel. Supervisory personnel also have to be trained in how to investigate such reports and follow up with those designated within the organization to handle such matters.

Denial is even more costly if ongoing conduct is reported, or a mildly violent incident occurs, and no action to investigate or correct the behavior is taken. This happens more frequently in smaller organizations because they lack the internal expertise to handle it. Not addressing this problem will assure that the aggressive conduct will continue. Others may even mimic the aggression since it seems to be tolerated by the company. Soon the behavior can take on a more violent form when people begin to fight back. Eventually the workplace becomes a hostile environment. No matter who the aggressor is, the behavior must be addressed and stopped. Don’t make excuses. Correct the behavior through professional intervention or remove the individual using a safe termination process.

Consider an active shooter scenario. If someone decides to go on a shooting rampage in your facility, have you trained your personnel what to do? It is fairly simple to give them basic survival training and it requires a response plan that will work for your specific facility. This is another necessary component of your workplace violence prevention and response program.  Just planning to call 911 is not enough.

For more information regarding workplace violence prevention, safe terminations, bullying prevention, active shooter response planning and training, supervisory training and other related topics check out the Workplace Violence Series on our website at www.imac-training.com.

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