Since the murder of a Yale Graduate student, workplace violence has become a predominate topic in the news. Investigators, from the beginning, have maintained that the murder of Annie Le was an instance of workplace violence, asserting such claims as though to relieve the anxiety of students, faculty, and media. However, workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job related deaths and the fastest growing category of murder in the United States. In light of recent events, now is a good time to review your workplace violence policies and practices.
What is Workplace Violence?
Before a proper workplace violence policy can be enacted employers and employees alike must understand what constitutes workplace violence. Workplace violence is any violence or threat of violence against workers. It does not necessarily need to occur at a person's place of work for it to be considered workplace violence. It can be any act of physical violence, threats of violence, harassment, or other disruptive behaviors. While all workers are at risk, a few particular professions are at an increased risk of violence. These professions include "workers who exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods, or services; or work alone or in small groups, during late night or early morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public."
Workplace violence can be triggered by a number of different actions and is often difficult to predict. It costs employers millions of dollars and contributes to millions of lost days of work a year. Aside from practical and financial reasons employers have a legal duty under the negligent retention doctrine to respond to employee's notice of threats and harassment. Therefore, it is imperative that employers address the problem. One of the best ways to address the problem is to adopt a workplace violence policy within your company.
Adopting a Workplace Violence Policy:
The best policy against workplace violence is prevention. Many companies now employ workplace violence prevention plans in a hope to anticipate and reduce violence. Employers should establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.
A prevention plan should set forth clear procedures for reporting incidents of violence. A realistic chain of command should be established. For instance, first reporting should be to a direct supervisor who can assess the threat and proceed up the chain as the situation warrants. Depending on the threat, departments such as human resources, legal, and security should be kept abreast of the situation. Under extreme circumstance local law enforcement should also be contacted.
An employer should also provide training. Training can help prevent violence as well as show employees ways to neutralize situations that could lead to violence. Training can be especially important in high risk professions as well as for employees who regularly deal with layoffs and terminations.
It is also essential that employers inform the employees of the policies. This can easily be done by incorporating the policy into employee handbooks or standard operating procedure manuals. However, implementing a policy is just the first step for employers to protect themselves and employees from workplace violence.
Steps to Protect Employer and Employees:
An employer should establish effective pre-employment screening to protect themselves and employees. They should conduct background checks, call references, and drug test if appropriate. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("OSHA") an employer may be liable for employee violence if he "knows, or should have known, of certain characteristics of an individual and hires the person or retains him or her in employment anyway." Therefore, the employer has a duty to properly screen job applicants.
A company should also maintain proper security in the workplace. Employing photo badges, key cards, and guards are simple ways to maintain a safe workplace. The amount of security necessary will depend on the nature of the company and the work done therein.
Also, OSHA recommends steps that every employer should take to protect themselves and employees from workplace violence:
- Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.
- Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents immediately in writing.
- Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
- Carry only minimal money and required identification into community settings.
If the incident has already occurred OSHA recommends:
- Encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence.
- Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment after the incident.
- Report violent incidents to the local police promptly.
- Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.
- Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.
- Offer stress debriefing sessions and post-traumatic counseling services to help workers recover from a violent incident.
- Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by type or circumstance, and institute corrective actions.
- Discuss changes in the program during regular employee meetings.
While total prevention may not be attainable there are many steps that employers can enact to reduce violence and employer liability. Employers must be cognizant of threats within their company and must take immediate and adequate action against such threats. A safe and secure work environment benefits employers and employees alike.
From an Article on Workplace Violence appearing at: http://www.osha.gov
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