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By Melissa A. Bailey, Esq. and Dennis A. Davis, Ph.D.*
Employers today are faced with the daunting task of trying to root out workplace violence before it occurs for both legal and basic human safety reasons. In addition to the basic moral and human desire to keep workers safe from harm, legal responsibilities (including recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directives) make violence prevention and intervention a top priority. Register for an upcoming complimentary CLE Webinar on Nov. 13 titled: When the Unthinkable Happens: Preventing & Addressing Violence in the Workplace
I. Types of Workplace Violence
Workplace violence can be divided into four major categories, each of which includes a violent act by an individual against a company’s employee(s):
While most employment policies focus on coworker violence by prohibiting weapons, aggressive behavior and hate-based speech in the workplace, the challenge for employers is broader than that. Understanding how to avoid the risk of all four types of behavior is paramount for a safe and effective workplace.
II. Assessing Risk
How concerned should an employer be about the risk of violence in the workplace? The answer lies in an assessment of several relevant factors such as the industry, geographic location and workforce involved as well as whether previous incidents of violence have occurred or been threatened. Employers should consider researching prior violent events in the particular industry, as well as surrounding businesses and competitors, by contacting local law enforcement authorities for more information about violence occurring at or near the workplace.
Employers also should ask themselves the following questions and act upon the responses:
The steps employers must take to prevent violence in the workplace depend in large part on the risk factors present in the particular workplace. There are, however, some preventive measures that employers should implement in all workplaces:
IV. Post-Incident Actions
Sometimes, in spite of preventive planning, an incident of violence occurs. Even after the incident is over, the consequences remain and can include an increase in absenteeism, an increase in employee turnover, loss of productivity and business interruption. Nevertheless, with proper crisis management methods and post-incident intervention, an organization can recover from and decrease the negative fallout from an incident. There are several areas to consider when getting a workplace back on track after a critical incident.
After an incident occurs, it is imperative to reinforce security precautions with all personnel. Frequently, an organization has adequate physical/site security, but measures have been disregarded or disabled by employees. (Examples can include a locked security door which an employee propped open with a chair while on a break to smoke a cigarette or the receptionist who buzzes in an individual even without identification because he or she looks familiar.) With the heightened awareness following a critical incident, personnel will be more likely to hear and heed warnings against these types of security breaches.
B. Human Resources
As soon after the removal of the threat as possible, HR should schedule Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD). CISDs are not therapy sessions but rather “psycho-educational” meetings. The intent is to educate employees on what to expect as a result of the trauma. There are three main phases of a CISD:
Information. Employees are given as much information about the incident as possible to help decrease the number of rumors and myths that follow many traumatic incidents.
Venting and Validation. Employees are encouraged to share fears, concerns, and other feelings. Once these emotions are expressed, they are validated, which serves to reduce anxiety in an organization and minimize the need to talk about the incident when employees should be working.
Prediction and Preparation. The facilitator helps the employees understand what to expect next. For example, who may be questioned during the police investigation, etc.
V. OSHA’s Workplace Violence Directive
On September 8, 2011, OSHA issued an enforcement directive for the purposes of investigating and dealing with incidents of workplace violence. The directive will be used by OSHA’s district supervisors and area directors in determining whether or not to conduct an investigation into allegations of workplace violence and includes the following:
*Ms. Bailey is a workplace safety, government affairs, compliance and hospitality industry attorney shareholder with Ogletree Deakins P.C. in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Dr. Davis is a non-attorney expert on workplace violence prevention, workplace bullying, conflict resolution, sexual harassment and cultural diversity. He works out of the firm’s Torrance, Calif., office.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual sources referenced and do not reflect the views, opinions or policies of the organizations the sources represent.