When we analyze workplace accidents we often discuss two things: their frequency and their severity. And though the severe accidents will be the most costly, the frequent accidents often give us the most concern. They are like the ticking of a time bomb. The more accidents you have, the more likely it is that one of them will be severe.
It’s the same way with workplace violence. Threats, yelling, intimidation, physical assaults, and bullying can all be warning signs of something more sinister even deadly. And they may have legal consequences of their own. So businesses should use multiple risk management strategies to prevent and mitigate even relatively minor instances of workplace violence.
Workplace violence often starts with employees and employees start with hiring. So that’s where your prevention efforts should begin. By considering these items before hiring candidates, you may be able to prevent workplace violence incidents:
- Ask for and check references – Asking for references is fairly typical, but do you actually check them? You may learn a lot about a potential hire from previous employers.
- Ask about gaps or frequent job changes – The explanation may help you get a handle on who someone is before you hire them.
- Criminal records check – This should be a standard HR practice. You should conduct these checks on EVERYONE, including the CEO. You don’t have to do them before interviewing potential hires, but you should do them before hiring.
- Interview people if possible. Though it is not always feasible to interview individuals in person for every position, it can be quite beneficial to experience that face-to-face interaction.
- Be aware of ADA requirements. The Americans with Disabilities Act may apply if a potential hire indicates an emotional or mental condition. The risk of minor violence may not be enough to refuse to hire the person.
When you do have disciplinary issues that call for terminations, take steps to assure the process goes smoothly. These situations are naturally emotional and tensions can quickly escalate. Even before discipline is necessary, you can lay a respectful foundation with policy manuals and procedures that could become the basis for discipline written in a respectful and accessible style.
Use a consistent and transparent process when disciplining employees—one that reasonable people would recognize as fair and respectful. Assure that two people are with the employee when the termination occurs. And listen to the employee’s concerns while remaining professional and respectful. All of this can help create safe and respectful terminations.
Adopting a formal policy against workplace violence and establishing procedures when an incident occurs sends an important message to the workforce about your seriousness on this issue. A comprehensive workplace violence policy should:
- Include clear directive opposing workplace violence and define the problem in broad terms to capture threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, bullying, and similar non-physical acts.
- Establish clear reporting procedures and clarify that the employer will not retaliate for good faith reports.
- Prohibit employees from intervening when violence is occurring.
- Require employees to notify you about protective orders they have against someone else.
- Clearly state the consequences for failing to follow its mandate.
Weapons and Employees
Under Indiana law, employers may not prohibit employees from bringing weapons to work if they are kept locked in a car. But some employers may want some employees armed; they may believe it will help keep the workplace safer. This is not, however, a one-size-fits-all decision.
If you are trying to determine the right path for your organization there are numerous questions to consider: How will we choose which employees? What training will we require? Will we have specific policies and procedures for maintaining and using weapons? Where will we keep the weapons? Will we provide the weapons? Will everyone in the company know who is armed? Will our insurer cover it?
Regardless of the decision you make, shouldn’t make it without first trying to answer all of these and other relevant questions.
As with workplace accidents, you may not be able to prevent every incident of workplace violence. But that’s no reason not to try. As these situations come under more and more scrutiny, it’s only a matter of time before employers face liability for failing to have procedures and policies in place that could have prevented violence in the workplace. Better to be ahead of the curve, implementing proactive strategies designed to prevent even the “minor” incidents of violence than to be facing a jury as the test case.