Keeping Your Employees Safe
Tips for Preventing Violence at Work
Recent events have many employers thinking about gun violence and the appropriate actions needed to ensure their workplace is a safe for all those who enter. While protecting against gun violence at work is a serious, important and timely topic, violence at work in general is equally worthy of discussion.
Workplace violence is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs on the work site. This can include random criminal acts, violence by a co-worker, customer or client, or violence resulting from a personal situation (i.e., domestic violence or stalking). Violence can involve anyone from employees, to supervisors, customers, contractors, vendors, visitors or strangers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 there were 792 incidents of intentional workplace injury, with 500 resulting in homicide; this represents a 23 percent and 20 percent increase respectively over the prior year. Other incidents of workplace violence not typically reported or included in the statistics above include fighting, confrontation, berating, arguing and sexual assault. This can result in employees experiencing physical or psychological harm, absences, medical costs and long-term stress or anxiety. Even though an estimated 2 million American workers are impacted by workplace violence each year, only 25 percent of companies spend time and resources to make a plan and take preventative action.
While workplace violence can occur at any company, jobs that involve exchanging money in public, serving alcohol, working with volatile people, working alone, late at night, or in a high-crime area carry more risk. Healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service employees, teachers, janitorial staff and law enforcement officers have the highest risk due to a combination of these factors.
Companies feel the impact of workplace violence through property damage, loss of inventory, reduction in staff, increased security and insurance costs, legal costs, reputational damage, or an inability to operate business for some time.
To protect employees and help reduce the chance of incident, companies should take any one, if not all, of the following measures:
Company Policies: Strong, well-worded policies can send a powerful message to employees and give a formidable basis for preventing or reducing workplace violence. Your handbook should have essential policies, including Workplace Safety, Weapons, Searches, Harassment/Sexual Harassment, Visitors, Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Action. Ensure every employee receives a handbook and signs an acknowledgement of receipt stating they will comply with all policies. If you are missing any of these policies, now is the time to put them in place and, again, have employees acknowledge the new policy once implemented.
Hiring Practices: Knowing who your potential new hires are allows you to understand who will enter your workplace. Comprehensive criminal background checks and professional and personal reference checks will allow you to gather information about a potential employee’s disposition. While you may not find out everything, it is an important step to minimize your exposure to a claim of negligent hire.
Disciplinary Action: Take a zero-tolerance stance on violence, threats, harassment or intimidation. Step in as soon as a situation is known, in order to stop it from escalating or repeating. If the situation involves two employees, separate, investigate, and take decisive disciplinary action. If a non-employee is involved, have the individual removed and prevent them from returning. If a vendor, contractor, or client is involved, review the business relationship. Companies can have legal exposure to negligent retention claims if employees or business relationships are maintained after knowledge of violent or threatening behavior.
Security Measures: Install security cameras and a security system with keys or access badges. If possible, make sure no one works alone. Hire security guards. Assess the location before committing to a work space. Keep minimal money on hand. Post signs stating measures taken to deter offenders.
Prohibit Weapons: Create and enforce a zero-tolerance, no-weapons policy as strictly as possible, covering all weapons, such as firearms, knives, and explosives. In most states you can restrict weapons completely from company property and company vehicles. However, some states allow permitted gun owners to leave their firearms locked and out of sight in their personal vehicle.
Safety Program: Create a thorough safety program covering any situation. Include procedures, contacts, phone numbers, forms, etc. Outline the expectations, roles and responsibilities of employees and managers. Communicate this plan to everyone and make sure they know where to find the information if needed. The Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security have comprehensive programs online that can help you develop your own program.
Conduct Training: Train employees for a variety of threatening situations so they are not making uneducated decisions in the moment. Consider inviting experts to provide active shooter situation training such as the “Run. Hide. Fight.” concept promoted by the Department of Homeland Security.
Benefit Programs: Assess your benefit offerings to include programs that employees would need if faced with workplace violence. Along with Workers’ Comp, health and disability insurance, consider offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or legal insurance.
During these difficult times, proactive planning, policies, action, and training are not only good business sense to minimize exposure but are vital to keeping your employees and workplace safe.
Paige McAllister is a contributor for Affinity HR Group, Inc., BSCAI’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as BSCAI and their member companies. To learn more, visit www.affinityHRgroup.com.