In my last post, in response to the bombings at the
Boston Marathon, I
talked about some ways that employers can prevent violence in the workplace
and even avoid hiring the type of employee who might become violent. (Realizing,
of course, that there are no guarantees and many laws limit what an employer
can do from a predictive standpoint.)
This week, I'd like to talk about crisis management: what
can an employer do to help defuse a dangerous situation, or pacify a fragile
But first, some disclaimers
Based on comments I received last week, it appears that I
need to make some disclaimers:
1. I realize that the Boston Marathon bombings and the
other mass killings we've been experiencing are not the typical "workplace
violence" scenario. However, many people have been killed, injured, or put
at risk in their workplaces as a result of these incidents.
2. I realize that a ban on weapons in the workplace would
have done absolutely nothing to prevent the horror of the Marathon bombings,
Sandy Hook, or the shootings at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado.
3. The majority of workplace violence scenarios do not
involve terrorists or mass murders. They involve small-time personal disputes
between one or two employees over very mundane grievances. You know --
adultery, mean supervisors, abusive spouses, grudges, drugs. The kind of stuff
you encounter in country
songs. (Speaking of which, RIP
to the great George Jones.) Employers can exercise some control over
this type of scenario.
Calming troubled waters
The employee who is on the edge because of a
"country music" situation can often be talked out of it. Here are
some tips that can help:
It's also important to avoid doing anything that the
employee will find humiliating. If you believe that you need to have law enforcement
officers present, that's fine, but have them "lay low" in another
room nearby. If the employee has to be escorted out, make sure it's done as
quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
Also, don't forget about our old friend, the Family and
Medical Leave Act. Allowing an "at-risk" employee to take a medical
leave to escape a stressful situation and get help may be an ideal solution for
everyone. If the employee can qualify for short-term disability benefits, all
the better. (Completely off topic, but good to know: The
Department of Labor plans to increase the number of FMLA on-site investigations.
I guess anything more than "zero" would be an increase.)
And, of course, if the employee actually makes threats or
behaves violently, you should terminate. But your first priority should be to
get the employee off the premises safely.
Some may (and probably will) disagree with me, but I also
think it's a good idea to take into account the validity of the employee's
grievance. Suppose an employee has just found out that his wife is cheating on
him with a co-worker. Doesn't he have a right to be outraged? Of course he
does, and since he's "rationally" outraged, you may be able to calm
him down. On the other hand, if the employee has -- just as an example -- a
pathological obsession with a co-worker, there may be very little that you can
do other than get him (or her) out of there and do what you can to make sure he
(or she) doesn't come back.
Why I favor weapons bans in the workplace
One commenter from last week disagreed with my
recommendation about having a no-weapons policy in the workplace. Here are four
reasons why I think it's a good idea to ban weapons at work (and I'm not
talking about Swiss Army
knives or sporks -- just the "hard stuff"):
1. The Second Amendment doesn't apply to private
employers any more than the First Amendment protects the right of employees in
the private sector to say whatever they want, no matter how offensive. These
amendments apply to state action only. Moreover, most concealed-carry
laws allow employers and buildings to prohibit weapons. So a ban on weapons in
the workplace would not normally infringe upon anyone's constitutional or legal
2. Although a weapons ban won't prevent a mass killing by
a terrorist or a James
Holmes, it can help to keep "country music" disputes among
co-workers from becoming deadly. These crimes are committed in the heat of the
moment, and it's a lot easier to commit a crime in the heat of the moment when
you're packing heat.
3. People at work get mad at each other all the time, and
they can't easily get away from the sources of their distress -- otherwise,
they'll be written up for attendance. Sometimes the boss is a jerk, or
perceived that way. Sometimes employees are disciplined or fired, and they
think the decision was really unfair. Sometimes you have those adultery or
domestic violence situations I've been talking about. If any of these occur and
a weapon is handy, it's likely you'll have trouble. On the other hand, if the
weapon is back home, that might give the upset employee just enough time to
calm down and realize what a terrible mistake he'd be making if he acted on his
4. The adage "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws
will have guns," which (I think) has validity in the outside world,
doesn't apply very much in the workplace, where the environment is more
controlled and controllable.
5. All that having been said, there may be justifications
for weapons for security personnel or other specially designated employees if
needed to maintain order.
Visit the Employment and
Labor Law Insider for additional insights from Robin Shea, a partner with the national labor and
employment law firm Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP.
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