Employers need to be proactive in formulating a written policy for workplace violence. The news is replete with stories of workplace violence. A disgruntled ex-employee, coworker or spouse of an employee, or sometimes just a random customer or stranger walks in and violence breaks out. Violent situations happen, but it may be reduced or thwarted by a clear workplace violence policy.
The statistics of workplace violence are shocking. According to the Department of Labor Website,every year in the US violence in the workplace results in approximately two million injuries and approximately 1,000 deaths. While the news regularly reports workplace shootings that take multiple lives, workplace violence is significantly underreported by the news.
The repercussions from the violence can be staggering to employers and employees. From loss of lifeto fears felt by the victims and those who identify with the victim. From company-wide fears of future violenceto loss of productivity and morale as well asproperty damage. And, from increased security costs to attrition and loss of business as people shy away from locations where violence has occurred. The total costs are immeasurable. No employer is immune from the threat of violence and not all violence can be prevented, but employers should have a policy for dealing with threats of violence and a plan for how to handle the situation when violence occurs.
The Written Workplace Violence Policy
The Department of Labor has formulateda lengthy written comprehensive ‘Workplace violence Program’ that includes the following:
(1) thepolicy, purpose and scope,
(2) roles and responsibilities,
(3) preventing workplace violence,
(4) workplace violence warning signs, and
(5) establishing levels of violence and response.
While the written plan is geared toward violence on a government-controlled property, the overall scheme can be applied to most workplaces and tailored to the specific environment.
1. Policy, purpose and scope statement.
The written policy should contain a statement informing everyone in the company that the purpose of the written document is to make all employees aware that there is a company-wide plan for managing both potential and actual violent situations. The policy should inform the employees that the policy applies to everyone and is to be used as a guide for both threatened and actual violence.
2. Roles and Responsibilities
The written policy should set forth the roles and responsibility for each person in the company (employee, management and independent contractors) in the event of threatened and actual violence. The policy should be specific regarding differences in responsibilities for each.
Depending on the size and nature of the company, the responsibilities may be divided as follows.
- All employees should be told they are responsible for knowing the policy, providing for their own safety, managing their own behaviors, promptly reporting potential and actual threats, cooperating with the assessment, or investigation and informing the proper personnel where an order of protection is in place.
- Managers and supervisors should be informed of their additional responsibilities such as assuring that all employees are aware of the policy, taking all reported incidents of threatened and actual work place violence seriously, investigating all threats and acts of violence, providing feedback to the employees regarding the investigation, requesting assistance when necessary, being aware of potential escalating or violent situations, encouraging employees who exhibit stress or fear to seek assistance, and cooperating with law enforcement.
- Human resources should be trained on assessing and investigating work place violence raised by employees. They also should know what to do when an employee brings knowledge of an outside threat to the business such as an order of protection or threats they have heard of that impact the employees or company.
- Security, whether in house or outside contract companies, should know their role in both providing security and defusing both potential and actual violent situations, notifying police, providing technical advice and support, and assisting with investigations.
3. Preventing Workplace Violence
There should be a policy to prevent workplace violence. This may include establishing a positive work environment, providing appropriate security measures for the employees, educating employees on available services, as well as partnering with local law enforcement agencies. It also includes taking early action when there are signs of escalating stress or concerns.
4. Workplace Violence Warning Signs
The employees need to be aware that oftentimes there are warning signs prior to violence erupting. The violence may be among co-workers, but it is also likely to occur where there is domestic abuse, terrorism, or threats by customers. All employees need to know what steps to take when there is a perceived threat.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, the vast majority of workplace violence is among co-workers. This may include homicide, but also threats of violence including bringing weapons to the workplace, physical assaults, intimidating or harassing conduct.
The DOL website also reports that 27 percent of violence was related to domestic abuse. Victims of domestic abuse are most-easily found either at their home or place of employment. Employers should be made aware of protective orders and also have a means for employees to communicate concerns that do not rise to a level of a protective order but may be escalating in their personal lives.
The smallest percent of violence is through random acts or customer disputes. The employees should be instructed to be aware of their surroundings, including unusual or suspicious conduct or angered customers.
5.Levels of Violence and Response
The workplace violence policy should set forth a summary of the different levels of threat as well as the appropriate response to the threat. Below is an example of the three levels employed by the Department of Labor.
A. Level One (Early Warning Signs)
A level one threat may be where a person (either employee or outside individual) is bullying, intimidating, being discourteous, disrespectful, uncooperative or verbally abusive. In that situation, the response may include observing the behavior in question and reporting the conduct to the supervisor. The supervisor then should be responsible for responding to the situation. If it involves an employee, the supervisor or human resource personnel should be responsible for addressing the inappropriate conduct.
B. Level Two (Escalating)
The conduct can be seen as escalating, or becoming more serious, where the employee is arguing with customers, vendors, co-workers, or management, refuses to obey company policies and procedures, verbalizes a desire to harm others, threatens co-worker(s) and/or management, or feels victimized by management.
The appropriate response may include calling internal security or 911, contacting the immediate supervisor and taking safety measures for the employee’s own safety or for the safety of others. There should also be a plan for addressing the situation after the situation has deescalated.
C. Level Three (Highest Level)
Level three is the highest level of threat. This may occur where a person displays intense anger including extreme rage, use of weapons, physical fights, property destruction and threats of suicide.
In this situation, the plan should be clear that the employee should contact 911 and take all measures for the safety of self and others. The policy should direct the employee to contact their immediate supervisor. The policy should also inform employees that once law enforcement is on the scene, they should defer to law enforcement to respond.
After the situation has ended, there should a formal documentation of what occurred and cooperation with law enforcement. There should also be a clear policy regarding who should make any necessary statements to the press on behalf of the company.
Domestic Violence and the Workplace
Domestic violence should be addressed in the Workplace Violence Policy, but it should also be addressed as a separate section in the policy. As stated above, more than a quarter of all workplace violence will involve a domestic dispute. The abuser usually knows where the victim works and will seek them out in an environment where others may not know of the threat.
Sometimes, but not often, the employee will have an order of protection. The employee should know how to advise the employer of the order of protection and also have the assurance that the order of protection will be taken seriously and understood by all that are in position to follow through enforcing the order of protection. This may include not transferring calls from someone to not allowing them to enter the building, providing notice to the employee and cooperating with the police when a violation is occurring.
Most-often the employee will not have an order of protection. The employee should have a means to communicate to the company security concerns that do not rise to a level of a protective order which may be escalating in their personal lives. This would allow the company to both assess and respond to threat.
Unfortunately, not all employees will bring domestic threats to the attention of their coworkers or supervisors, but the employee may display warning signs that they are feeling threatened or afraid. In this situation, the supervisor should attempt to assess the situation and provide necessary support through educating the employee on both the company’s response as well as outside resources they can utilize.
Best Practices Relating to Workplace Violence
As stated above, no company is going to be able to avoid all violence. Nevertheless, with a plan the company may be able to limit or reduce the level of violence episodes and provide a safer work environment.
If you want assistance with drafting or reviewing workplace violence policies and plans, please contact Kristin Tauras at McKenna Storer.