Avoiding Workplace Violence: Tragedy In The Workplace
While small business owners (SBOs) hope their workplace, customers or employees aren’t victimized by a violent act, the simple reality is that unfortunate incidents happen to companies of all sizes. With awareness of the potential for workplace violence growing, it’s important for business owners to develop and implement prevention and response plans.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of 1.7 million people are victimized by violent crime annually while on the job. Researchers believe that many “minor” incidents go unreported, suggesting that workplace violence is more common than the stats indicate. It’s a problem for any SBO.
Workplace violence goes beyond direct assaults and includes other forms of aggression: verbal threats or intimidation, bullying, vandalism, intentional negligence and other anti-social acts. Researchers report that victims of harassment experience greater productivity losses than victims of physical violence, in part, because workers believe that the harassment will continue, or that the employer isn’t preventing or responding to it.
In addition to the direct effects on victims, workplace violence generates a variety of expenses for employers, including medical or psychiatric care, lost productivity or business, increased insurance premiums and the potential for litigation.
So what can you do to keep peace on the workplace floor?
Develop Company Policies To Protect Your Team
A strong, zero-tolerance policy reduces the odds of a company being victimized by workplace violence. New hires and existing employees should receive written policies informing them that violence, in any form, damage to company property, threats, or intimidation are grounds for dismissal. Staff should also understand that incidents will be documented, and that employees face disciplinary action if they behave inappropriately toward customers, fellow employees or supervisors.
Similarly, workers should also be informed about the availability of counseling resources if they need them. Arranging counseling for troubled workers is often more effective than simply firing someone and hoping they never return to the workplace.
Company policies should also ensure that terminated employees are treated with dignity during the termination process. Losing a job is a stressful event that compounds other problems an employee may have problems that could trigger an inappropriate, even dangerous, reaction.
Careful applicant screening is also helpful in preventing workplace violence. Verifying applicants’ work history, qualifications and potential criminal background identifies higher risk candidates before they’re hired. Human resources should conduct detailed screening of all potential hires including the conduct of criminal background checks.
Sample policies are available from a number of sources, including state and federal workplace safety regulators, and your insurance provider. Policy templates can be customized to meet your company’s needs, and should be reviewed by your company attorney before being distributed to employees.
Potential Warning Signs of Workplace Violence
Business owners and managers should be trained to recognize the warning signals that often indicate an employee may be experiencing problems, or may be about to behave violently .
Potential red flags include:
- threats against co-workers or supervisors;
- complaints about unfair treatment;
- changes in behavior, job performance or mood swings;
- outbursts such as swearing or slamming doors;
- alcohol or drug abuse;
- undesired or obsessive romantic feelings toward a coworker;
- financial problems;
- poor performance reviews.
While some of these issues fall outside the workplace, making them difficult for employers to identify, employees with problems should be informed of any assistance programs or counseling services available to them.
Employers and managers should be especially sensitive to the potential for inappropriate reactions during or after events such as layoffs, demotions, disciplinary actions or poor performance reviews. Any event in which a worker feels victimized could lead to violence if employers aren’t aware of the potential risks.
Because workplace violence may be committed by someone outside your company, such as a customer, former employee or a romantic partner of an employee, company owners should review the physical security measures within and outside their workplace facilities.
For example, determine how accessible your workplace needs to be, and make sure parking areas and your building’s exterior are well-lit and free of shrubbery in which people can hide. Security cameras, electronic access cards, “smart” doors and other security measures reduce the risk of workplace violence by keeping offenders off the premises.
In high-risk workplaces, like 24/7 convenience stores, security measures and procedures, such as reducing the amount of cash on hand, are also beneficial to employee safety.
While even the most stringent policies and procedures may not prevent workplace violence, taking prudent steps to identify the risks reduces the odds of your company or employees being victimized by inappropriate behavior.
Protect your people and your business from violence. It’s the responsibility of company management to insure a safe workplace your workplace.