Violence in our society seems to be ever increasing and the workplace is no exception. One out of four workers are likely to be threatened, attacked, or assaulted at work each year. However, employers can take steps to minimize the chance of violence in the workplace by improving the screening process for job applicants and establishing, conveying, and enforcing violence prevention programs that include educating workers to recognize early signs of potential violence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation states that workplace violence is any action that could threaten the safety of an employee, impact the employee’s physical or psychological well-being or cause damage to company property. In most cases prior to a violent attack, the perpetrator will display warning signs. Workers should be able to recognize warning signs and know how to respond to them. Training in nonviolent response to conflict resolution can also reduce the risk of unpredictable situations leading to violence.
Threatening actions or words, said even in a joking manner should be treated with caution. There may be cause for concern if there is a display of one of more of the following signs:
- If they have strong negative attitudes, hold a grudge, make verbal threats, have a history of violent behavior or have noticeable mood changes.
- If an individual is a loner or acts paranoid.
- If they have an obsession with weapons, carry a weapon or are fascinated with other violent workplace incidents.
- If they have mental health issues or tend to push the limits of normal conduct.
- If a person has severe personal hardships or expresses extreme desperation over recent family, financial or personal problems.
- If the individual has an obsessive involvement with the job or is angered with how inconsistently “rules” or disciplinary measures are applied.
Preventing workplace violence must be a top priority for employers. Before an individual is hired, background and reference checks should be made. Pre-employment interviews should inquire about past performance and evaluations. Drug screening is also a proactive prevention option. Employers must let all workers know that violence is unacceptable.
Written policies and procedures should be available for violence and threat management, counseling, and criteria for reporting incidents. All workers should be made aware of what behaviors are inappropriate and the disciplinary action that could result. Response to an incident should be predictable and consistent for all workers. Finally, there should be an action and crisis team to handle incidents.
Workplace violence takes a toll on employers and workers. It not only affects those who are assaulted, but those who have witnessed it. Employers must prevent violent incidents and not just react to them. Once threatening information surfaces at the worksite or an incident occurs, employers could be held liable if they fail to act.