Workplace Violence: Beyond the Active Shooter Scenario
This article was originally published on Women in Print.
Violence in the workplace is a serious concern and even if it is infrequent, it can be traumatic both physically and psychologically. While there is a unpredictability to violent actions by employees and others who can enter the workplace, companies should create a plan to anticipate and prevent violence as much as possible. If a violent act happens in the workplace, companies must have a plan to respond and not be caught off guard.
The best way to prepare for violence in the workplace and to advocate for the safety of women and all employees at your company is to create a workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP). In fact, having a WVPP may be required depending on where you live.
In California, the legislature recently passed a law requiring employers to establish, implement, and maintain a workplace violence prevention program. While some employers are excepted from the plan, it covers a large majority of businesses in that state. As California goes, often go other states, so a WVPP might be a requirement near you in the coming years. Even if it isn’t required, though, having a WVPP is quickly becoming a best practice for employee safety.
A common misconception is that workplace violence refers to active shooting situations and nothing more. While these horrific tragedies do occur, the reality is that violent acts in the workplace are generally of more subtle – yet still harmful – nature. Workplace violence can encompass many behaviors, including:
- Physical abuse, such as fighting, sexual assault, throwing things at or near people, spitting on people, and other similar behaviors.
- Weapons violence, both with firearms and other weapons, such as knives, bombs, and objects used as weapons.
- Verbal abuse, which is using words intended to intimidate, offend, degrade, or humiliate a person or group of people. This is behavior that is generally considered to be harassment, bullying, or coercion of any type, including political, religious, and other personal beliefs.
- Inappropriate behavior, such as lewd or lascivious actions directed at a person (i.e., flashing or exposing themselves to others), wearing clothing that is meant to offend (such as graphics that degrade women, minorities, or are inflammatory political statements), or interfering with people’s lives unnecessarily, such as a manager that schedules someone intentionally to conflict with a major life event.
One way to prevent the above behaviors from taking place in the workplace is training company managers to recognize signs of employee distress. Just because an employee is experiencing distress does not mean they are prone to violence. However, studies have associated acts of workplace violence to people who are experiencing significant stress. Recognizing such distress is one way to create an environment that diffuses propensity for an employee to act violent toward a fellow employee.
Accordingly, if an employee has changes to their grooming, interpersonal communication, or a decline in their ability to fulfill work standards, then intervention and aid for that employee may be warranted. This should signal that supervisors or human resources professionals should be checking in with them to see if they are okay and spending more time interacting with them to understand what may help stabilize and perhaps improve their apparent distress.
Subtle signs of potential violence also warrant additional supervisory check-ins and communication. These include employee antisocial behaviors such as being impressed by violent incidents in society, implications that the employee participates in domestic violence, as well as signs of violence toward animals. In addition, a person that holds grudges and is vindictive may be a warning sign of violence.
In all of these instances, supervisory or HR staff should meet with the employee discreetly. They should NOT ask (or suggest) if the employee has a medical or mental health condition. Rather, they should say that they have observed some uncommon behavior and ask whether something is amiss. Offer help through an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) if the company has one. For overt statements about anger, offer for the company to pay for anger management training.
Obvious signs of potential violence cannot be ignored. These include direct and implied threats, angry outbursts, verbal abuse, and physical aggression that stops short of assault. These behaviors warrant disciplinary action and closer monitoring of the employee’s behavior by supervisory staff.
The first step is to have a workplace conduct policy in place that alerts employees about what is expected of them and assures them that systems are in place for their safety. Creating a WVPP should include training for recognizing the behaviors just outlined, but also have procedures in place to prepare and respond to violent acts. These should include creating awareness of violence in the workplace through employee training and instituting an anonymous “See Something, Say Something” procedure. Consider requiring active shooter response training for employees.
Many facility safety strategies can be implemented that involve securing doors, installing alarm systems, creating bullet-proof glass vestibules, and maintaining security cameras. Cameras need to be installed and monitored in a fashion that does not violate any aspect of the National Labor Relations Act and a camera disclosure policy must be adopted. Texting, rather than rally points, should be the method for safety checks in the aftermath of a workplace violence incident.
Workplace violence is a reality of the modern world and being prepared to both prevent and respond to workplace violence incidents is something all companies should do. As thought leader Frank Sonnenberg one wrote, “be prepared, or be prepared to be blindsided”. Creating a WVPP will prepare you and your team and will avoid being blindsided if a workplace violence incident happens in your facility.
Adriane Harrison is Vice President, Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance. Adriane assists members with a wide variety of HR matters involving statutes, regulations, policies, procedures, culture, and staffing, as well as the gamut of day-to-day HR issues. In addition, she supports professional development by conducting webinars, participating in panel discussions, and speaking at industry events on human resources issues. Currently, Adriane is the Chairperson of the Graphic Communications Workforce Coalition, a member of the Women in Print Alliance, and a founder of the Women’s Print Mentoring Network.
Adriane received a journalism degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago. As an attorney, Adriane practiced in both the public and private sectors. Her work was in the areas of Constitutional, commercial, securities, and criminal law. Adriane and her family live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.