The potential for workplace violence is a realistic concern for all employers, no matter the industry, location, or employer size. With strategic planning, risk analysis, and other preventive measures, employers can help minimize the risk and be confident they are as prepared as possible.
Types of Cases
Workplace violence cases typically can be divided into four major categories based on the individual’s relationship to the workplace:
- Where the individual has an employment relationship with the workplace;
- Where the individual is the recipient or the object of a service provided by the workplace or the victim;
- Where the individual has no direct relationship with the workplace, but typically has a relationship with an employee; and
- Where the individual has no legitimate relationship to the workplace and enters the workplace to commit a robbery or another criminal act.
Employers should identify and address all four categories when developing a program to prevent workplace violence.
Terminations, demotions, layoffs, disciplinary actions, and unresolved or unsatisfied resolution of employee complaints and grievances have been considered contributing factors to incidents of workplace violence. Additional factors that employers should consider in assessing whether their employees are at risk include:
- Working with the public or volatile, unstable people
- Conflicts with coworkers
- Domestic or personal life issues that spill over into the workplace
- Disgruntled former or current employees
- Working alone or in isolated areas
- Handling or guarding money and valuables or providing services or care
- Working where alcohol is served
- Working late-night or early-morning hours
- Working in areas with high crime rates
- The availability of firearms and weapons
Employers also should consider any prior violent events at their worksite and review the effectiveness of the existing system for reporting, handling, and preventing incidents of violence.
The next step is to develop a plan of action to prevent violence from occurring in the first place and to address an incident if one occurs. The plan will depend on the risk factors in the particular workplace. However, the following methods can help employers to materially reduce workplace violence:
- Conduct a Workplace Violence Hazard Analysis. This assessment should consider the likelihood of workplace violence after evaluating the risk factors and whether certain physical changes can reduce employee vulnerability to violent incidents. An assessment also should identify jobs or locations with the greatest risk, as well as any processes and procedures that put employees at risk.
- Develop a Violence Prevention Program. This written document should include a statement regarding potential violence in the workplace and the assignment of oversight and prevention responsibilities. It also should include an anti-violence statement that covers all workers, clients, visitors, tenants, and anyone else who may come into contact with company personnel. It should provide specific information on the consequences of non-compliance.
- Develop a Security Plan. This plan should be tailored to the individual needs of the workplace, but it may include: (1) requiring all visitors to sign in and provide identification; (2) installing security cameras in common or high-risk areas; (3) installing bright, effective lighting; (4) regularly maintaining alarm systems; and (5) providing reliable means of communication to employees who may need to summon assistance. For example, especially for individuals who work alone, ensure there is a way to reach others in an emergency.
- Create a Response and Crisis Management Team. This team can instruct others on the proper procedures for responding to an emergency stemming from workplace violence and assisting individuals who have been physically injured or emotionally traumatized.
- Implement Appropriate Administrative Controls. These controls can include establishing liaisons with local police and state prosecutors, requiring employees to report all assaults or threats to a supervisor or manager, advising employees of company procedures for requesting police assistance or filing charges when assaulted and helping them with these if necessary, and screening people before allowing entry into a worksite.
- Effective Training. Training on the risk of workplace violence can include how to recognize the potential for workplace violence at the earliest stages, as well as steps that can be taken to avoid or mitigate potential violent encounters. Employers also should provide training to employees on how to protect themselves or get assistance if violence appears imminent. Additionally, training should include how to report and document incidents of violence.
- Promptly Respond to All Complaints. Employers should have a responsive process to handle complaints of violence or the potential for violence.
- Annual Assessments. Employers should have a recordkeeping system designed to accurately capture any violent incidents. Moreover, the system should be reviewed annually for areas of potential improvement.
The dangers associated with workplace violence are all too real. Employers should contact their employment attorney to evaluate conditions at their worksites and take steps to prevent workplace violence by considering implementing the above steps.
Carla Gunnin, Principal, Workplace Safety and Health, John Snyder, Principal, Employment Litigation, and Ryan Chapoteau, Associate, Employment Litigation all work for Jackson Lewis P.C.