Reducing the Threat of Workplace Violence
July 11, 2018 | Curran Leahy-Lonigro, Esq.
Unfortunately, this post was prompted by yet another workplace shooting. On June 28, 2018, a man armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades stormed into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Maryland, killing five newspaper employees. This time, the suspected shooter was not a current or former employee, but an outside individual with, according the New York Times, “a long history of conflict with the [newspaper]…suing journalists there for defamation and waging a social media campaign against them.”
There is no simple solution for preventing workplace violence. In fact, the terrible truth is that there is no combination of solutions that will prevent all tragedies from occurring. Even a company that has taken careful and thoughtful steps to prevent violence may still fall victim to a violent crime. But, there are steps an employer can take to reduce the risk of violence occurring in the workplace.
- Establish an open-door policy that encourages employees to voice concerns to their manager, human resources, or any manager they are comfortable speaking to.
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by employees. Train your employees on the policy. Ensure all employees are aware of the policy and understand that all claims of violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. Periodically retrain employees on the policy.
- Establish and maintain a workplace violence prevention program.
- As is permitted by federal, state, and local laws, perform background and drug screenings on applicants and employees.
- Consider partnering with an Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”) provider.
- Train employees and managers to recognize some of the warning signs of possible violent behavior. The Department of Labor includes the following on its list of warning signs:
- Attendance problems – excessive sick leave, excessive tardiness, leaving work early, improbable excuses for absences;
- Supervisor’s time – supervisor spends an inordinate amount of time coaching and/or counseling employee about personal problems, re-doing the employee’s work, dealing with co-worker concerns, etc.;
- Inconsistent work patterns – alternating periods of high and low productivity and quality of work, inappropriate reactions, overreaction to criticism, and mood swings;
- Poor health and hygiene – marked changes in personal grooming habits;
- Evidence of possible drug or alcohol use/abuse;
- Evidence of serious stress in the employee’s personal life – crying, excessive phone calls, recent separation;
- Unshakable depression – low energy, little enthusiasm, despair.
Additional resources for employers:
- The CDC has published a report on workplace violence prevention strategies.
- OSHA has dedicated a portion of its website to workplace violence prevention.
- The Department of Homeland Security offers guidance for responding to an active shooter situation. Employers may wish to consider circulating this guidance to employees.
Please reach out if we can assist in creating a workplace violence prevention policy or program for your organization.
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