Friday, June 17, 2016

Workplace Violence – Time For A Policy Review?

The recent tragic events in Orlando, Florida serve as a reminder that often, evidence of forthcoming violence may start in the workplace.  In the case of the Orlando shooter, the subsequent investigation has revealed that the shooter made threatening and/or menacing statements at work about his ties to different terrorist organizations.  He is also reported to have made statements of support, at work, for the violent and extreme actions of others, such as the Boston bombing perpetrators.  Employers should be vigilant in situations such as these.  As has been stated over and over in media coverage since Sunday, identifying threats often comes from a co-worker, friend or relative reporting strange behavior.  Since people spend so much time at work, work is often where problems and violent tendencies first manifest themselves.  So what can you do to help safeguard your employees?

Most importantly, we recommend to all of our clients that their personnel manuals include a workplace violence policy.  We recommend that these policies contain, at a minimum, the following information:
  • A definition of what constitutes workplace violence - it’s not just actual physical violence.  Threatening statement of any kind may also constitute a violation of the workplace violence policy and be cause for alarm;
  • Prohibitions – against weapons, threats, threatening behavior, menacing behavior, stalking etc.;
  • Removal – provide information regarding when an employee who violates this policy may be removed from the workplace;
  • EAP – provide information about EAP and EAP referrals for the victims of workplace violence and as a resource to try and change the behavior of an offender when that is appropriate;
  • Disciplinary Information – provide information regarding the types of discipline that may result from violating this policy, up to and including termination of employment;
  • Reporting Procedure – provide clear guidance regarding how to report incidents of workplace violence and to whom they should be reported; provide guidance on saving evidence of threatening behavior such as voicemails, emails, photos and text messages;
  • External Threats –provide guidance on to whom copies of restraining orders should be given; have a procedure for receptionists or front desk personnel to be able to identify threatening individuals as soon as they see them; provide guidance on what should be done if someone who poses a potential threat arrives at the workplace.

And then, of course, you must train your employees and your management staff on the policy.  One of the biggest issues that we encounter is that clients have excellent policies in place and they give a copy of their handbook to all new employees, but they never provide training on what is actually in the handbook.  Assuming that employees will read and understand your handbook is not a risk worth taking.  Where important policies are concerned, you should train the employees on those policies and any changes to the policies.

Situations like the recent Orlando nightclub shooting remind us that we can never be too careful when we suspect that someone’s behavior may be threatening.  Evidence of violent intentions may be very subtle.  Making sure that you have a good policy in place and that your employees know what to look for when it comes to workplace violence will help keep your organization and your employees safer.