With the horrific events of violence that have unfolded over the last six months or so like Sandy Hook Elementary School, the movie theater in Aurora, CO, and most recently in Boston at the marathon, do you really still think violence couldn’t happen in your workplace? Violence is a critical issue for employers to deal with and one of the biggest mistakes that many organizations make is to remain 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 developing prevention strategies to reduce those chances. 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. Furthermore, when you profess to employees that they are your most valued asset, as so many companies like to do, what message you are sending to them when you do not address violence prevention?
Maybe your organization doesn’t need to have a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Let’s see – 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 or never had an employee use aggressive, intimidating language or action against another then maybe your organization is immune. I don’t think that place exists! Yes, all of those things listed can lead to workplace violence and will be looked at in court as contributing to reasonable foreseeability.
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 the issue but don’t know what to report, or are afraid to. This is not the employee’s fault. If they haven’t been made aware that they have a responsibility to report certain things addressed by the workplace violence prevention program, then they cannot help reduce the problem.
Let’s just take the example of not reporting inappropriate aggression. 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. 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 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.
Corporate denial is even more evident if ongoing conduct is reported, or a mildly violent incident occurs, and no action to investigate or correct the behavior is taken. This 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 just transfer the person out to another department hoping they will change their behavior. Don’t promote them out, and don’t make excuses. Correct the behavior or remove the individual using safe termination protocols.
Consider the possibility of an active shooter. If someone does go on a shooting rampage in your facility, have you trained your personnel what to do? It is fairly simple training but does require a response plan that will work for your facility. This is just one 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.