Sadly, workplace or work-related violence makes headlines almost weekly. In fact, we may have become immune to the horror as they have become so common in our 24 hour news cycle. But organizations can and must take steps to identify and prevent workplace violence, and to create safe workplaces.  

Workplace safety 101

Sadly, workplace or work-related violence makes headlines almost weekly. In fact, we may have become immune to the horror as they have become so common in our 24 hour news cycle. But organizations can and must take steps to identify and prevent workplace violence, and to create safe workplaces. 


Section 1 - Anticipating Trouble

Certain characteristics of a troubled work environment and a troubled workforce can provide employers with warnings of potential workplace violence. By heeding these signs employers may be able to avoid liability for violent incidents in the workplace. 

Signs Of A Troubled Work Environment 
Employers should be on the lookout for any of the following signs suggesting potential problems with the work environment: 

  • Chronic labor/management disputes.
  • Extraordinary number of injury claims.
  • Frequent employee grievances or complaints, particularly of harassment.
  • Understaffing or excessive demands for overtime.
  • High worker stress.
  • Layoffs and a corresponding increased workload for remaining employees.
  • Authoritarian management.

Identifying Potentially Problematic Employees 
Through the interviewing process employers can learn more about the individuals they hire. Moreover, by training supervisors to recognize potential problems and implementing policies to handle threats of violence, employers can increase the possibility of recognizing and containing situations that could lead to acts of violence. 

As a reasonable employer you should take certain steps to spot dangerous individuals. A background check should be performed on every individual before hiring. The intensity of that investigation should be commensurate with the opportunity that a particular position will afford an individual to injure others. All background information should be carefully checked, paying close attention to gaps in employment and patterns of brief employment. 

A criminal records search also should be considered. The level of investigation must correspond, however, with the amount of contact that an employee will have with the public. Of particular concern are employees that will enter the homes of customers. Remember that a job applicant wants a job. Ask applicants to sign a waiver consenting to a background check. As discussed later, the applicant can waive certain rights to privacy. 

If a position is particularly prone to stress, psychological screening may be in order. Keep in mind, however, that as a potential "medical" test, psychological screening may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thus such screening should only be done post-offer as a condition of employment. Remember also that such screening must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. 

The correlation between drug abuse and erratic behavior is irrefutable. The U.S. Department of Transportation and its operating administrations require testing of its applicants and employees in transportation-related safety-sensitive positions. States vary with regard to drug testing laws, some being more liberal than others. All states permit substance abuse testing of some kind, although certain states (and locations) impose conditions on the basis for or manner of testing. Some states, for example, have statutes that provide that an employee may be asked to take a drug test if the employer has a reasonable suspicion of drug use. An employer should educate itself or seek assistance in researching applicable drug testing laws and their applicability to its operations. 

If possible, human resource representatives should consider periodic walkthroughs of the workplace and keeping office hours for employees to stop in with concerns. Second- and third-shift employees pose special risks without the same resources and level of supervision as the daytime employees. If you have a second or third shift, consider making yourself available at least one night a month or early in the morning. Bi-weekly or monthly meetings may also be helpful to communicate workplace policies to second- and third-shift employees and give them a feeling of belonging to the organization. These same suggestions apply to the weekend crew. 


Section 2 - Dealing With The Violent Individual

Standard strategies for coping with violent individuals include the following: 

  • Give the potentially violent person enough physical space.
  • Avoid glaring or staring, which may be seen as a challenge.
  • Speak softly.
  • Listen carefully. Don't be judgmental.
  • Observe the individual's body language.
  • Avoid touching a potentially violent person.
  • Try to have a colleague with you.
  • Have a code or signal that informs others of potential violence.
  • Mentally design a safety plan.


Section 3 - Ways To Avoid Incidents Of Workplace Violence

Unfortunately, even employers sensitive to potential violence-related problems in their workplace or with their employees are limited by a variety of legal issues in their ability to maintain a safe workplace. Potential liability under federal and state statutes increases an employer's difficulty in securing the workplace. The following elements should be included in any employer's program to establish and maintain a safe working environment: 

  • An anti-violence policy.
  • Pre-employment screening.
  • Informed management.
  • Fair treatment of employees.
  • Education programs.
  • Counseling.
  • Security.
  • Threat assessment team.
  • Aftermath training.
  • Substance abuse policy.

Anti-Violence Policy 
Employers must begin by developing a strong policy statement - similar to an anti-harassment policy -confirming that aggression and violence will not be tolerated in the workplace. The policy must be crafted in accordance with federal and state laws. Employers must communicate this policy to their employees. The anti-violence policy statement should indicate that its purpose is intended to be protective and not punitive, and it should encourage employees to actively cooperate in making their workplace safe. 

Note that employers of unionized employees should plan to involve the union in developing any anti-violence program. 

Pre-Employment Screening 
Inadequate pre-employment screening may lead not only to negligent-hiring problems, but also to a less-desirable applicant pool and workforce. Pre-employment screening should include drug testing, background checks, and careful interviews. Employers should use employment applications that include a release allowing them to verify information reported by applicants. Before extending an offer of employment employers should check references and inquire about any previous incidents of violence. Gaps in employment history should be scrutinized. 

Questions such as the following could be used: 

  • Have you ever been disciplined for fighting, assaults, or related behavior?
  • Have you ever been discharged or disciplined for violating safety rules?
  • Have you ever been disciplined for harassing another employee?

Included in the application should be a statement that the information being provided is truthful and accurate and that omissions or false statements will result in termination of employment. 

Informed Management 
Management must be informed about the risks of workplace violence and be committed to working to reduce those risks. A good safety program begins with management committed to making the program work. Management should present the anti-violence policy as a positive preventive measure for the safety of employees and should be constantly on watch for signs of a troubled work environment that may indicate a need for intervention. 

Fair Treatment Of Employees 
One of the greatest risks of workplace violence occurs with employees who feel they are not being treated fairly. Employers should treat employees as the employers themselves would like to be treated. They should develop a system of due process for employees who are being disciplined. Complaints about employees should be investigated promptly and the results of these investigations should be communicated to the appropriate parties. 

An anti-violence policy should contain an employee dispute-resolution program, which could help management identify and resolve workplace disputes before they become incidents of violence or dissension. 

Education Programs 
Education programs should be developed for management and employees. Managers and supervisors need to be able to recognize signs of potential workplace violence. Supervisors need to be trained to treat all employees fairly and consistently. Employees should be trained to deal with workplace diversity. Everyone should be trained to deal with emergency situations and to implement an emergency action plan. Security and conflict-resolution training can also be helpful. 

When problems arise, employees need to be dealt with quickly, before a crisis develops. Employers should consider establishing an employee assistance program if one does not exist. Employers should be open to the possibility of medical referrals for employees who may need medical evaluations or whose drug, alcohol, or behavior problems indicate the need for a reasonable accommodation in order to avoid violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Employers should take the following steps to protect their employees: 

  • Make sure there is adequate security to protect employees from outside dangers. Provide locked areas, require security passes, limit access by outsiders, improve lighting, and install cameras and mirrors.
  • Eliminate obstructions (for example, hedges) to views of the interior of night retail establishments so that police or passers-by may observe any criminal activity.
  • Have escape routes for employees.
  • Consider hiring security guards who are fully trained to respond to incidents of workplace violence.
  • Specify in the anti-violence policy that locker or desk searches may be conducted in appropriate situations.
  • Consider conducting safety audits. A safety audit should rate each area and identify those areas needing improvement. It should contain a realistic improvement plan for areas in need of improvement. Honest reporting and tracking of incidents, with proper follow-up, are essential.
  • Where practicable, provide telecommunication devices to summon assistance.

Threat-Assessment Team 
A formal procedure should be developed for handling threats. A threat-assessment team is a group intended to deal with threats. Since a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to deal with the complexities of an actual situation, the team might include a health professional, an attorney, a risk manager, and security and human resources personnel. The team should draft procedures to follow in evaluating a threat and it should recommend a response to the appropriate officer. The team should recommend any potential discipline, counseling, or the adoption of special security measures when a threat occurs. 

Aftermath Training 
Plans should be put in place to handle the occurrence and aftermath of acts of workplace violence. A clear plan can go a long way toward restoring order in an employer's facility after a violent act has occurred. Employers should take advantage of community resources, such as the local police department, to formulate the company's after-crisis plan and to communicate that plan to employees. 


Section 4 - Support in times of crisis

When a work site is affected by a traumatic event, whether it is an incident or threat of workplace violence, catastrophic accident, natural disaster, robbery or unexpected death, employees' lives and their productivity at work can be thrown off track 

When such events occur, an organization needs to respond quickly and effectively to minimize the risk of further damage and to help affected employees recover and return to work. Ceridian's Critical Incident Management Services help you manage crisis situations and get your business back to normal. 

By offering timely, expert support to employees and managers, we help minimize the costs of reduced productivity due to trauma. 

Critical Incident Management provides telephone support to prevent/react to critical incidents, and onsite Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) by crisis response specialists. CISDs reduce the impact of trauma and accelerate return to work. 

Contact us today to learn how Ceridian's Critical Incident Management Services can get your organization back on-track after a traumatic event.