It is not uncommon now to turn on the TV, read online, or receive an alert on a mobile device describing another mass shooting at a place of employment. Just recently, 12 lost their lives at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia. With the continuing escalation of mass homicidal workplace incidents, employers are turning to Human Resource (HR) professionals for answers as to how to prevent this type of situation. While there may not be any guaranteed answers to prevent 100% of potential violent workplace situations, there are preventative measures that employers should be adopting to mitigate risks.

First, let’s look at the facts of workplace violence, with an understanding that while the mass shootings receive media attention, not all workplace violent situations rise to that level yet have equally disturbing statistics. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the regulatory governing agency with oversight of workplace safety, has complied the following statistics:

  • 2,000,000 workers annually report being a victim of some form of workplace violence
  • 18,400 non-fatal workplace assault injuries occurred in 2017
  • Homicide is the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States with 458 fatalities in 2017
workplace violence

Under OSHA’s General Duty clause employers are “required to provide their employees with a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Workplace incidents can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide behavior if it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Age Discrimination or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

OSHA prescribes that employers should: (1) maintain a zero-tolerance policy of such behaviors and (2) that the policy include a grievance policy through which an employee can report claims of behavior or safety violations.

A zero-tolerance policy should not only include physical violence and homicide but threats, bullying, and verbal abuse as well. These should just not be line items in an unacceptable behavior policy. Best practices would suggest that a separate Workplace Violence Prevention policy be adopted. Policies should include training for supervisors, employees, and be coordinated with building managers, local law enforcement, hospitals, etc., so that employees are proactively prepared to respond appropriately.

Employers should have resources in place to make referrals to an Employee Assistance Program, as well as mental health resources through their health plan. Supervisor training would include how to make referrals to these resources.

Supervisor training should also include awareness of potentially violent warning signs and how to coordinate with Human Resources for safeguarding the workplace. While some behaviors maybe more obvious than others, warning signs would include:

  • Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying, or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior;
  • Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees;
  • Bringing a weapon to the workplace, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making inappropriate references to guns, or fascination with weapons;
  • Statements showing a fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem, or statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides;
  • Statements indicating desperation (over family, financial, and other personal problems to the point of contemplating suicide);
  • Drug/alcohol abuse; and
  • Extreme changes in behaviors.

While no industry is immune from the potential hazards of there are some industries which workplace violence maybe more prevalent. These industries include: workers who exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods, or services; or work alone or in small groups, during late night or early morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public. This group includes healthcare and social service workers such as visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators, and probation officers; community workers such as
gas and water utility employees, phone and cable TV installers, and letter carriers; retail workers; and taxi drivers.

While OSHA has no standard in place for regulating workplace violence there are several states (including California) who have implemented standards for the healthcare and social employer industry, two industries with the highest occurrences for workplace violence. Human Resources should be aware of and stay updated on both federal and state regulations for the prevention of workplace violence.

Every situation that garners media attention is an opportunity for employers to be vocally sympathetic and empathetic to the situation, recognizing that it could happen in their place of business or in their community at any time. Employers should inform employees regularly that they take such situations very seriously and use opportunities to review the Workplace Prevention Policy with employees periodically. Employers can also provide a reminder of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and mental health provisions of their health plan. If workplace violence has occurred in their community, the EAP should be brought on site to help employees through the emotional upheaval both through overview meetings and confidential one-on-one meetings.

To recap, while preventing workplace violence may not always be guaranteed the best practices employers should adopt are:

  • Develop, train and maintain a Workplace Violence Prevention Policy and Weapons Policy
  • Coordinate response plan with building owners, local police department, hospital
  • Follow your state/local procedures for conducting background checks on all applicants
  • Conduct pre-employment assessment testing
  • Performance Management – clear communication
  • Use Mental Health benefits including Employee Assistance Programs
  • Maintain a holistic wellbeing culture that focuses on the physical, financial, emotional and social wellness of your employees.
  • Know your employees.

Written by Bobbi Kloss, Benefit Advisors Network Director of Human Capital Management Services, published in Entertainment Human Resources Network.