After the shooting of two journalists on the air last August in Virginia, it's hard to deny that workplace violence deserves some focus. The federal government estimated about 700 workers are murdered each year, said Jeanne Sahadi of CNN Money. Like the shooting in Virginia, these crimes tend to get public attention when they happen – but they're a drop in the bucket compared to nonfatal crimes.
"In 2009, there were 572,000 reports of [nonfatal crimes] committed against adults at work, according to the Bureau of Justice," Sahadi said. Factor in bullying, verbal abuse and threats, and by OSHA’s count, the number climbs to 2 million.
Who commits workplace violence?
"We all come to work each day with the stresses of our personal lives, so you just don’t know," said Ellen Pendagar, CEO at the Mental Health Association in Ulster County after another recent shooting. "Workplace violence is real, and these situations should be brought to people’s attention."
That said, it’s relatively uncommon for workplace violence to be committed by current or former employees. For the most part, this type of violence is perpetrated by outsiders. It can be a tactic of domestic abuse, committed by the intimate partner of one of your employees. (Domestic abuse affects one in four women.) It can be committed by a stranger with no relation to the business. (There’s been a sharp rise in mass shootings over the last 15 years.) It can take place during an attempted theft.
There are many possible sources of violence. But as an employer, you're responsible to provide a safe work environment for your employees. If workplace violence erupts, you could be held liable.
Workplace violence prevention tips:
- Establish and communicate a written zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence.
- Cultivate a workplace environment of respect and tolerance.
- Create systems for prompt, objective grievance reporting and response.
- Train leaders to recognize and report signs of mental illness in the workplace.
- Promote the availability and advantages of using your Employee Assistance Program.
- Evaluate your workplace’s most vulnerable areas – from both a physical perspective (areas with direct contact to public) and from a procedural perspective (functions and tasks that have high likelihood of conflict). OSHA has several evaluation resources for your reference.
- Establish violence response procedures so your team knows how to document and respond to violence warning signs and diffuse dangerous situations – particularly in the most vulnerable areas identified through your evaluation.
- Practice proactive customer service and conflict escalation protocol to manage disgruntled customers.
- If appropriate, consider requiring door controls, name badges, visitor sign-in logs and other measures to increase safety.
- Keep entrances and parking lots well-lit and consider the use of video cameras.
- Establish emergency procedures so employees know what to do in worst case scenarios.
- Make workplace violence a standard topic of discussion at monthly safety committee meetings.
The Workplace Violence Research Institute estimated that this type of violence "costs businesses more than $36 billion each year," said Nolo. Don’t remain vulnerable. Contact the employment practice experts at Higginbotham to learn more.