Common Sense Steps to Reduce Violence in the Workplace
By Mary Jo Spiekerman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
VP of Human Resources, Hausmann-Johnson Insurance
Workplace violence occurs with some frequency and, unfortunately, it sometimes turns deadly. Co-workers, management, and human resources staff may all be targeted. Regardless of their level of involvement, employees of companies where a violent act has taken place are negatively impacted and the reputations of the companies suffer.
There is no magic set of policies and practices that will prevent workplace violence 100 percent of the time. However, there are some proactive measures you should consider that may reduce the threat.
Deal with any volatile employees who you have. Do you have employees who raise their voices in anger, harass or bully other employees, or get into physical altercations with them? Do you tolerate that behavior? You should not. If you are a Human Resources manager who works in a company where you see this going on, if you’ve reported it to management and you still can’t get management to deal with it ─ leave. This may save your life. If you are a manager or owner of a company and you’ve chosen to tolerate this behavior because staff are hard to find or these people are your buddies, think about the personal liability you may have should one of these employees become violent and injure others.
Conduct criminal background checks. Real background checks. Not just a cursory look online that you can do because it’s cheap. It’s cheap for a reason – it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Engage a reputable vendor to do comprehensive criminal background checks. While you must follow federal, state, and municipal rules about what you do with the information you find and may or may not be able to make hiring decisions based on what you find; knowledge is power. When you have concerns about what you learn from a criminal background check and are uncertain about whether it might or might not prohibit you from hiring an applicant, contact your employment law attorney for guidance.
Have drug policies in place and enforce them. What I am focusing on here is not your random marijuana user. I am talking about drug sales taking place in or around your facility. This can be especially problematic for companies running multiple shifts where there are large open parking lots with cars coming and going all night or for companies with remote outdoor worksites. These are situations ripe for drug sales and spill-over violence that may occur because of them. If you have concerns that this is happening at your facility or on your job site(s), contact law enforcement for guidance and assistance.
Have an Employee Assistance Program in place and publicize it to your employees. During disciplinary actions, always remind employees about their access to the EAP. The experts at your EAP may be able to find help and assistance for an employee for whom you cannot, and it may make the difference between the employee bringing the problem to work or having it addressed outside of work.
Secure your facility. How many times do we hear about violent employees or former employees gaining access to a company’s building through unlocked doors? What about security inside your building(s)? Should certain areas of your company have restricted access? Have you installed video monitoring of your facility or parking lot? Should you?
Trust your gut. I have had EAP professionals, employment law attorneys, and law enforcement say those words to me repeatedly. If you suspect an employee may become violent in the workplace or in a disciplinary meeting, take precautions. Remember those comprehensive criminal background checks mentioned earlier? Dig them out and see if your employee has a history of disorderly conduct, restraining orders, or other violent crimes directed toward people. Even if there is no history of violence or if you never have done background checks on your employees, call your local police ahead of time, explain the situation, and take their advice. Consider hiring additional security. Plan the time and place to deliver the discipline to the employee, taking special care to maintain the safety of HR and management who may be delivering the message. If the employee has already been suspended, consider delivering the message via telephone and following up with written communication. Box up the employee’s belongings and mail the items to them. Resist the urge to rush into discipline or termination with the potentially violent employee. Take your time and plan.
We will never fully eradicate violence in the workplace, and management and HR will always be some of the most likely targets. But, I urge you to consider taking the steps I have outlined. They can go a long way toward addressing the issues. They might also keep you and your employees alive.