Workplace violence is a surprisingly common phenomenon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are between 15,000 and 25,000 incidents of workplace violence each year, although many more incidents may go unreported. 518 people were murdered at work in 2010.
Workplace violence can also lead to serious legal problems for employers. Dangerous workplaces may violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. They can also put an employer at risk of lawsuits for negligent hiring, failing to warn employees of known risks, and maintaining an unduly dangerous workplace. Therefore, it is worth it for employers to mitigate the risk of workplace violence.
Here are some things that employers can do to reduce the risk of violence in their workplaces:
1. Conduct a workplace analysis. Talk with employees and supervisors, review worker’s compensation and insurance records, and review employee working conditions to determine potential sources of workplace violence.
2. Implement practices to mitigate hazards. Create practices that alleviate the risk for violent incidents. For example, make sure that your parking lot is well-lit, you have locks on your doors, and that you control who enters the workplace. Address threats and threatening behavior by employees. Implement a zero tolerance policy for violence in the workplace.
3. Develop a workplace violence program. I wrote a previous blog post about what employers should include in a workplace violence program, which you can visit by clicking here.
4. Create an emergency plan. Create a plan of what employees should do if they encounter violence in the workplace. Designate people who will lead the response to a threat. Most importantly, practice this plan. Make sure that everyone knows what to do before an incident arises.
5. Document instances of workplace violence or threats. Keep a record of aggressive verbal or physical altercations in the workplace, threats, and any actual physical violence. Make sure to include instances of online harassment. Write down in detail what was said and done, and when and where this took place.
6. Develop a workplace assistance program. Consider developing a program where employees who have been the victim of workplace violence can get help. Such a program could reduce the risk of a hostile work environment claim or other employer liability.
7. Educate employees on their obligations to mitigate workplace violence. There is no point to having a workplace violence policy if employees are not trained in it. Educate HR staff and supervisors about ways to mitigate workplace violence. Feel free to contact me to discuss setting up this training.