3 strategies to reduce the threat of violence in the workplace
By Katie Loehrke, HR Editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.
Though it may seem like a tall order, employers have a common-law duty (and a responsibility under the Occupational Health and Safety Act) to eliminate or reduce risk of injury to employees. This responsibility includes preventing slips, trips, falls, and other accidents. But it also includes reducing the risk of injury due to violence in the workplace.
Most employers understand that they must promptly and earnestly investigate any threats of violence. But actual prevention may be less straightforward. While employers may not be able to prevent all
violent acts, they can take steps to decrease the risk of violence in the workplace.
Step 1: Get to know applicants.
The application process offers employers a prime opportunity to get to know potential employees. When it’s appropriate to conduct a background check, employers should do so, along with a thorough reference check.
Since references are usually provided by the applicant, employers might consider asking listed references for the names of other individuals who worked with the candidate in question, or call previous employers even when a contact from that company isn’t provided.
The interview is also a prime opportunity to get to know a candidates’ temperament. Consider including behavioral prompts, such as:
- “Tell me about a time when you got frustrated or angry and how you handled it.”
- “Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker.”
Then, pay attention for any red flags that might appear. Perhaps the candidate is all too willing to give examples of what made him or her angry, or the examples illustrate a lack of problem-solving or interpersonal skills.
Step 2: Communicate policies
Within the workplace, a company must strive to create an environment of respect. Even occasional or seemingly minor comments may have a negative impact on employee morale.
One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.
The policy must be well communicated and backed by obvious support from company leaders and top-level management. It should clearly outline unacceptable behavior and the possible consequences.
The policy should also make clear the procedure for employees to follow if they experience (or even observe) violence of any kind in the workplace. It should include more than one way for employees to report violence in case the offender is the employee’s supervisor.
Some policies on violence include a prohibition on weapons. While employers may generally prohibit weapons on company property, some state laws make it legal for employees to store a firearm on company property if it is locked in a personal vehicle.
Even in states with such laws, employers may still prohibit weapons on company property (other than within a personal vehicle) and in buildings.
Step 3: Investigate and enforce
Some employers forget that even the most well-crafted policies are useless if not consistently enforced. All reports of violence (including bullying and harassment) must be taken seriously and investigated immediately.
Where it is found that an employee acted inappropriately, employers must respond immediately with discipline that fits the offense. This sends the message to the offender and to the rest of your employee population that violence in the workplace — in any form — will not be tolerated.
Dealing with these situations can be less than pleasant for a variety of reasons, but supervisors must know that responding to violence or threats of violence is part of their jobs. While a supervisor may not investigate the situation on his or her own, he or she is often the first one alerted to a problem and must take these issues seriously, reporting them up the chain for assistance when necessary. Failure to do so is essentially a performance problem on the part of the supervisor.
Keep priorities straight
Employers go to great lengths to protect the property, equipment, procedures, and trade secrets that keep their businesses running smoothly and successfully. Employees — which many employers consider their most valuable asset — deserve at least similar consideration.
Though no workplace violence program can definitively protect all employees all the time, a company’s efforts to protect employees from harm are never wasted.
From Mary Borsecnik at J. J. Keller & Associates Inc.