This article discusses how many employers have created workplace violence policies to help employees recognize and prepare for instances where conflict resolution procedures have failed. The author identifies warning signs, recommends policy language, and advises employers to consider providing training to help employees detect behaviors that could indicate the potential for violence. Employers should include a formal reporting mechanism, an employee assistance program, a crisis management/trauma team, and a roadmap for law enforcement.
This past Wednesday, the family-owned Hartford Distributors Inc. in Manchester, Connecticut, reopened its doors. Eight days before this reopening, police reported that a truck driver facing possible dismissal charges fatally shot eight coworkers before killing himself.
Tragically, this incident is not isolated: The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported 11,613 workplace homicide victims between 1992 and 2006. Averaging just under 800 homicides per year, the largest number of homicides in one year (1080) occurred in 1994. In 2004, violent workplace incidents accounted for as much as 18% of all violent crime in the United States.
Against this dark backdrop, it is apparent that for any business workplace violence must be a top concern. This is especially true for smaller business organizations who are often hit by violent incidents much harder. Based on experience and personal observations, smaller companies typically do not have the resources to employ security, invest in workplace violence prevention training, or employee counseling services. Nonetheless, there are measures that any business – regardless of available resources – should take so it does not become another grim workplace homicide statistic.
Employers cannot guarantee workplace safety. But there are red flags and behaviors employers should recognize to minimize the chance that an employee's actions do not boil over into a violent altercation. For example, the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence identifies 13 signs to look for:
But recognizing violent tendencies is only the first step. Employers must also enforce workplace violence policies. These policies should be applied uniformly and should be based upon an objective analysis of the employee's present tendencies to commit a violent act.
Effective anti-violence policies should generally include the following:
A Workplace Violence Policy is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for a one-on-one discussion with a competent attorney. Aside from an obvious self-interest in job security, there are many subtle pitfalls when it comes to the interplay with various employment statutes and implementing workplace violence policies.
For example, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability (whether actual or perceived) or a record of disability. This prohibition could complicate the enforcement of a workplace violence policy if misconduct was the result of an employee's disability.
Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and courts generally take the position that employers are almost always entitled to enforce workplace violence policies pursuant contains a "direct threat" exception, and if the policies are enforced uniformly. But at least one court has found that taking an adverse action against a current employee for past conduct related to a disability may violate the ADA. See Josephs v. Pacific Bell, 443 F. 3d 1050 (9th Cir. 2006) (Employer violated the ADA by refusing to rehire a former employee based upon the former employee's history of violence). Cases like this make it critical for employers to fully understand what are often subtle pitfalls when it comes to how various employment laws may interact.
The following topics for consideration are not "legal" requirements. In fact, there are no current federal laws expressly prohibiting or even regulating workplace violence. Instead, based on experience, the following are measures that should be considered to prevent workplace violence or to minimize the damage caused by such violence if it occurs:
Establishing emergency road map for Law Enforcement. It is also important to be able to provide a road map for law enforcement if a violent situation erupts.
The Connecticut shooting is a grim reminder of how quickly workplace violence can erupt. But it should also be a reminder of what can be done to prevent or, at least, minimize the tragedy that follows such violence. Accordingly, employers should review and update their anti-workplace violence policies and procedures.
Source: Jason Shinn, https://jshinn.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/workplace-violence-preventing-and-minimizing-tragedy/
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