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ALERT - Violence In The Workplace

According to a comprehensive survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, 1.7 million violent victimizations per year, on average, are committed against persons at work in this country. During the survey period, eighteen percent (18%) of all violent crime was committed in the work place. Approximately 900 work-related homicides occur each year. Of the workplace homicides, 80% were committed with a firearm, and males account for nearly four-fifths of the victims. The same survey found that, "about 1% of all workplace crime was committed by a current or former boyfriend, girlfriend - an intimate - of the victim."

Employees look to management to provide the motivation and resources to address workplace violence. A commitment on the part of management to the safety and health of workers is essential. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has outlined a number of considerations employers should take into account with respect to safety in the workplace. Actions management should undertake to emphasize its commitment to workplace safety include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Create a policy that expresses management's disapproval of workplace violence and incorporate the policy into the Employee Handbook.
  • Take any threat of violence seriously, initiate a thorough investigation of the threat, and take the appropriate corrective action.
  • Consider requiring or offering counseling to the perpetrator as an alternative to immediate termination. The employer can maintain some level of control over the perpetrator by taking this posture as compared with firing the individual, which may create a higher level of risk.
  • Implement a security plan and disseminate the plan to key personnel so there is a plan of action that will be followed should an occurrence arise. This "response team" should develop a plan that considers how to coordinate care for the victim(s), and provide stress debriefing for co-workers and families.
  • Consider creating a "threat assessment team" where threats can be reported. The team should incorporate personnel from human resources, security, employee assistance, unions, workers, management, and legal and public relations departments. The team should be charged with the responsibility to assess threats and take the necessary steps to prevent the threat from being carried out.
  • Create procedural guidelines that employees are to follow with respect to reporting and tracking violent incidents that occur, and do not punish or discriminate against employees who either report or experience violence in the workplace.
  • Encourage employees to make suggestions with respect to how risk can be reduced, and adopt the suggestions that are appropriate. Additionally, have employees participate in routine security inspections of your facility. Environmental factors to consider include: good visibility within and outside the workplace, cash handling policies, physical separation of workers from customers or clients, good lighting, security devices (such as door detectors that alert personnel when someone enters an area, door buzzers which control access into an area, silent and personal alarms, and video surveillance equipment), escort services, and employee training.
  • Make contact with other parties such as landlords, lessees, the local police department, etc., in an effort to elicit recommendations for ways to improve the security of your business.

Should an event occur, having a step by step outline to guide supervisors through the difficult and stressful task of attempting to diffuse the situation is very effective in reducing the potential for mistakes. Such a policy takes the guesswork out of the equation, thereby helping supervisors and employees react accordingly. Posting the guidelines, or having them readily available in a handbook, will be very helpful to the supervisor who is having to deal with the problem employee.

Creating a crisis management team should also be considered by companies who want to be able to quickly respond to a situation. Employees of the company and the public at large will closely view how the company reacts to the situation. A crisis management team should consider the following guidelines:

  • Be Prepared: Create a crisis management plan before a crisis occurs so you can respond quickly, decisively, and appropriately.
  • Identify Your Crisis Management Team: Form the team in advance. If you have in-house legal counsel, then they should be part of the team. Make sure your best personnel are part of the team, and that they know what role they will play.
  • Identify A Spokesperson: This person should be able to communicate clearly, calmly, and unequivocally in stressful and potentially hostile situations. This is the person who will represent your company in the court of public opinion.
  • Train The Team: It goes without saying that practice makes perfect. Do not wait until a crisis unfolds before you train the team to handle the responsibilities delegated to them.
  • Communicate Immediately: During a crisis, advise the public and the company's employees about developments on a regular basis. Employees believe they have earned the right to be informed about issues affecting the workplace, and the public wants to know the company is not holding out and is doing everything it can to resolve the situation.

The key to effectively managing a crisis situation is preparation. This means developing a crisis management team in advance, outlining the responsibilities of each team member, and routinely training the team. The team must be prepared to act quickly should a crisis arise. The perception of your company among co-workers and the public can be greatly enhanced depending upon how effectively the company acts and communicates in such a situation.

A comprehensive guideline for diffusing a potentially violent situation in the workplace can be found HERE.

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