Workplace courtesy and safety should be a simple issue of applying those universal rules of behavior we all have learned by the time we were 5 years old. It has however become a complicated issue, with social and legal consequences for both the perpetrators and the companies/organizations that fail to control them. Is bullying a behavior that should be defined within the policy and included as unacceptable behavior? Is a domestic abuse problem any of the company’s business? Where does ‘aggressive management’ cross the line into the early stages of potential workplace violence or an environment of harassment in which people might over-react?
Yes, these conditions do have to be very clearly spelled out in a workplace violence prevention program and in any written policy statements. If your policy is limited to actual physical violence or threats of violence it will fall short of recent standards. Such standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA – see directive CPL 02-01-052 dated 9/8/11) and ASIS/SHRM’s Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention – American National Standard document define workplace violence with fairly broad language. In order for your policy to provide some hope of prevention, as well as a reasonable defense in court, the following types of activity and conduct must be addressed:
- Criminal activity within the workplace
- Customer/client/patient confrontations
- Personal partner abuse/domestic violence spilling into the workplace
- Aggressive co-worker issues such as abusive emails, verbal threats, hostile intimidation, and any other unacceptable behavior that invokes fear in the workplace
- Bullying and cyber-bullying
Much of this conduct is subject to assessment of ‘degree’, especially bullying, but your policy should give clear examples of unacceptable conduct. Absent written directives forbidding such behavior, it often isn’t recognized and therefore goes unreported. This will not only assure its continuation, but will probably be interpreted as acceptance and lead to more drastic, or aggressive, conduct. If it seems like there might be some spill-over into other policies governing employee conduct, like into your Harassment Prevention Policy, so be it. You still want to address the unacceptable behavior, see that it is reported, and take action to stop it. If abusive or aggressive conduct is addressed by more than one policy, that’s fine.
To be effective, the Workplace Violence Policy has to be understood by the workforce and the only method for achieving that is through training. This training has to be done at the employee level for all. Employees actually have to be considered your first line of reporting responsibility. They should learn the behavioral red flags and the reporting requirements expected. Training also has to be done for the supervisors who are going to be your second line of responsibility to investigate the issues. Then the designated Threat Assessment Team should be given even more specific training as to how the policy is to be applied and enforced. High risk terminations, for example, should always include an assessment by the Threat Assessment Team and the following of established protocols for the termination.
Check out our whole Workplace Violence Prevention series of training courses at www.imac-training.com.