What Can Be Done About Workplace Violence?

Sad news from Connecticut yesterday as another workplace shooting claimed 9 lives.

I’m not going to suggest that it could have been prevented, and in fact I have my doubts that such incidents can be completely prevented in a free society such as ours. Moreover, it would be inappropriate to second guess the company involved based on news stories that may or may not be complete and accurate. Nevertheless, it is timely to consider what steps employers can take to minimize the risk of workplace violence.

Provide Training to Employees — Most employers have zero tolerance policies regarding workplace violence and threats. Not all employers train employees on spotting warning signs and what to do if a violent incident occurs. Employees should be trained on such issues and should also be encouraged to report incidents and concerns.

Consider Timing and Circumstances of Termination and Discipline Meetings — No one enjoys being disciplined or terminated from a job. Even apart from the potential for violence, it is usually best to schedule unpleasant meetings for times when there are less employees around the workplace. However, you do not want to be alone either. Thus, it is wise to think about the circumstances and timing when you have to deliver bad news to an employee. No, I am not criticizing the Connecticut company for holding their meeting near a shift change. I do not know why the meeting was scheduled when it was, and I am not in a position to second guess them.

Get Help If You Need It — If you are concerned about a threat, don’t go it alone. If your company has a security force, get them involved. If not, do not hesitate to call the local police and ask for a patrol car to be nearby or even on the premises for a meeting. If you think there is a post termination risk, consider asking the police for continued patrols or even hiring private security for a period of time. I once had a client who was so concerned about an ex-employee that they hired a private investigator to follow the individual for the week after his termination and alert them if he came near the workplace. Nothing happened but that doesn’t mean it was a bad decision to take the precaution.

Trust Your Gut — Some years ago, I read a book called “The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence,” by Gavin de Becker. 

One of the author’s points is that you should not ignore intuitions about danger. I agree. If your gut tells you something is wrong, don’t automatically dismiss the feeling.

Workplace violence is not going to go away, and it is an issue that needs to be considered as seriously as any other workplace safety issue. OSHA has a wealth of information here. Even more information here.

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