In the wake of the terrible tragedies last week in Fort Hood, TX and Orlando, FL, many companies are dealing with some hard questions about the safety and security of their employees, customers and vendors and considering how they would handle a violent attack in their workplace. Consider the following statistics from The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM):
• 57% of all workplace violence is perpetrated by an employee on other co-workers
• 17% is an employee against a supervisor
• 6% of attackers are customers
• 4% are love interests of employees
• 3% are spouses of employees
In virtually every situation there were warning signs before the violence erupted that were either misinterpreted or ignored. These warning signs may include:
• Sense of ‘entitlement”, “The world/ this company owes me.”
• Patterns of complaints, litigation, and/or unfounded whistle-blowing
• Frustration or moral sense of outrage with company, its rules, and procedures
• Fear and/or frustration about job status or loss
• Making “lists,” documenting, or conducting surveillance of others
• Narcissistic rage
• Excessive interest in, or frequent references to, other acts of workplace violence
• References to, or identification with those perpetrators who recently, or in history, committed acts of violence
• Frequent talk about weapons or methods
• Carrying a concealed weapon, or showing of a weapon at work
• Animal cruelty
In addition to early warning signs, employees who are considering violence my exhibit new or unusual behaviors that can provide clues to their intentions including:
• Anti-social behavior – social isolation, assaulting others, impulsivity, failure to accept responsibility, disregard for safety of others etc.
• Emotional instability
• Self-mutilation or self-harm
• Severe depression and suicidal attempts
• Neurological impairment
As an employer, the law requires employers to demonstrate a “duty to care” and keep individuals in the workplace safe and secure from dangers that can be reasonably anticipated. Although there are potential early warning signs to consider, employers must remember it is virtually impossible to reliably predict the behavior of others or anticipate and plan for every possible danger. When considering these warning signs and behaviors, it is imperative that companies ascertain if the behavior may be related to a protected disability (under the Americas with Disabilities Act) before deciding on or implementing a course of action. Although most employers can tolerate a certain level of disability related conduct, they do not have to tolerate direct threats or violent behavior that risks the safety and security of others.
Employers are urged to evaluate the potential dangers in their workplace and develop and implement an appropriate action plan. Considerations for a comprehensive plan should include:
• Evaluating safety or security concerns – such as lighting in parking lots, unauthorized access to building and premises, odd or suspicious behavior of employees, customers, vendors, your policy and practice when an employee is served with legal notices by law enforcement, etc.
• Establishing a policy of zero tolerance for threats in the workplace
• Consider banning weapons on company property
• Screen applicants carefully using background checks – including criminal checks
• Train supervisors and employees on the warning signs of violent behavior
• Defuse disputes quickly and establish a dispute resolution program
• Establish a policy that employees involved in a restraining order must report those to the leadership team
• Empower employees to raise concerns without fear of retaliation and report threats or other violent behavior to the leadership team
• Document any threats and your response to them
Although these steps can’t guarantee that you will never experience a violent act on your premises, they can help you identify concerning behavior and take appropriate actions to protect all your employees. If you need assistance reviewing your current program or establishing a new program, HR Solutions by Design, LLC can help you evaluate your site for potential security breaches and develop a comprehensive violence prevention program. For more information, give us a call at 931-698-9958 or email us at CindyBeresh-Bryant@hrsolutionsbydesign.com.
Cindy Beresh-Bryant is President, HR Solutions by Design, LLC. She has worked for Fortune 250 and Fortune 500 companies for over 15 years providing innovative HR solutions for some of industries most difficult situations.