On August 26 a disgruntled ex-employee for WDBJ-TV in Virginia fatally shot another news reporter and a camera man at point-blank range during a live interview, in part as vengeance for his firing 2 years earlier. He claimed in a 23-page fax he sent to ABC News that his anger had been steadily building over racial discrimination and harassment he said he’d experienced. Last week on December 2, a restaurant inspector for San Bernardino County, California left his office, returning with his wife and opened fire on his co-workers, killing 14 and wounding 21. Authorities have found compelling evidence that the shooting was meant as a terror attack inspired, though not directed or carried out by, ISIS. These are by no means the only instances of workplace violence, however. Most of them do not make news headlines. Many of them are not homicides. That, however does not mean that the damage they cause and the threat they post are not serious. I do not begin to claim to have a magic formula that will end workplace violence once and for all. However, few would argue that employers should do nothing. In many instances, employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable efforts to provide a safe workplace. So what can an employer do? That’s our topic this week. Join The EmpLAWyerologist after the jump and we’ll discuss…
Here are some starting points for employers serious about addressing the threat of workplace violence:
- Evaluate: What if any policies and procedures do you have in place? When did you first implement them and when did you last review them? Have you had any incidents of violence or threatened violence in the past? How effective were your policies and procedures in either heading off violence or threatened violence or controlling damage? Do you work in an industry that is high-risk (e.g. dealing with large amounts of money, valuables or highly sensitive information, dealing with a population that may be prone to violence,)? How easily accessible is your workplace in general to the public? How vulnerable are or would your employers be to a violent individual or group? These are some questions you may want to ask yourself.
- Policies and Procedures – Your policies and procedures should state what you will do if confronted with actual or threatened violence. You should also review current anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and enforcement efforts. An employee or manager that harasses may escalate his or her behavior to violence. An employee who believes him or herself to be a victim of harassment or discrimination and who does not believe that his/her complaints are being taken seriously may resort to violence against either the alleged harasser in particular or the employer or workplace in general. You should also make sure your policies are consistently enforced. I posted here about your pre-employment screening and how you might focus some of your practices at this phase on finding and paying attention to “red flags”.
- Re-Think Termination and Post-Termination Practices: However you may feel about an employee you are about to terminate, proceed with caution and treat him/her with as much dignity and consideration as possible. Whenever possible terminate him/her at the end of the day, when most if not all your other employees are gone for the day. To the extent possible listen to his or her response or complaints. You might conduct an exit interview. You might want to either bring or arrange to ship their belongings to them so that they cannot and do not have an excuse to return to the office, and you will want to get back all company property, keys and any badges or similar items prior to them leaving. If you are not comfortable escorting them out or having someone else escort them out, consider other alternatives to ensure that they leave the premises peacefully. Consider whether providing severance pay and/or not contesting a claim for unemployment benefits might be enough to minimize animus and, consequently, threats of violence. If you believe that the employee poses an even bigger threat, you may want to alert the authorities and consider stepping up security measures.
- Consider implementing or strengthening security measures: You may want to install a buzzer/intercom system and require sign-in and a locked front door before allowing just anyone access. You might want to restrict access to particular areas, especially back entrances, or even require swiping a card or some implementing other similar measures. If you are located in a dangerous area or have other reason to be fearful, you might consider hiring security guards – and you might even want them to be armed. Many employers cannot afford that expense. If you run a small business but are in a building with others you might speak with them about sharing the expense. Assuming your state allows it, will you ban weapons in your workplace (click here for last week’s post on that subject)? Will you require that employees be checked for weapons or that they leave them in a repository prior to starting work? You should also train your employees so they know what your security measures are, and what to do if they are confronted with a violent or potentially violent situation.
- Take a holistic approach: Effective solutions for addressing threats of workplace violence most likely will not come from one person, department or action or set of policies. Your Human Resources Department is a good place to start, since it will be most used to implementing policies and procedures. If you have a safety department or people who are in charge of safety and security measures they too should be involved. Senior managers and even middle managers should be involved as appropriate. You might also consider educating all your staff as to what signs to look for, when and how to report any concerns and to whom — and to err on the side of caution. Click here for a review of possible warning signs — and don’t ignore them!
This, of course is not an exhaustive list, but again, it’s a good start, which, along with ongoing follow-up can go a long way toward reducing the threat posed by workplace violence. Recent events should have shown us that employers cannot afford to do nothing…
OK, this post is getting long, so we’ll stop here, wrap up this topic for now and start a new, mystery topic next week. So c’mon back to find out what it is! See you then.
Disclaimer: This post and all its contents are for educational/informational purposes only, are not intended as legal advice, do not create an attorney-client relationship, and are not intended to replace consultation with competent employment counsel in the state(s) in which you employ people
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