Strategies for workplace violence prevention
The recent workplace shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. facility in Aurora, Illinois is a horrible reminder that violence in the workplace is a very real possibility and can result in tragedy. Employers are responsible for providing and maintaining a safe place for employees to work. These strategies can help.
Create a policy
Employers can start by taking a zero‐tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Although no employer expects violence in the workplace, taking the attitude that, “It can’t happen to us” is unproductive. Employers must take this risk seriously, including implementing and distributing a written policy.
Train employees and managers
Employees and managers must know how to respond should a workplace violence situation arise. Employees should never be expected to confront a violent individual and should know to call 911 in such situations. In addition, managers can be trained to watch for warning signs that might signal future violence from employees or others with whom they interact in the workplace. If you do not have the expertise in house to conduct this training, enlist the help of your local police department and/or an outside security expert.
Create effective lines of communication
Encourage employees to communicate with each other and with management regarding conflicts in this workplace. This can clear up misunderstandings and defuse tensions that otherwise could lead to violence. Urge team members to be open‐minded and respectful of each other, and address conflicts immediately. Victims of or witnesses to harassment or violence should understand that they are expected to report all incidents, no matter how minor.
Train managers how to deliver bad news
Reports from the Aurora, Illinois incident have said that the violence occurred after an employee had been terminated. While there is no way to know how an employee may react to such news, delivering the news with dignity and respect for the individual losing his or her job can decrease the risk. Managers should be direct and convey the information with no room for interpretation and no mixed messages. The termination should take place in a private area, away from coworkers, with two management representatives present. Managers should succinctly explain how and why the decision was made, and allow the employee to vent, but not debate. If necessary, have security escort the employee out of the building and make arrangements for the retrieval of personal effects.
Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
If your workplace has an EAP, make sure that employees are aware of the EAP’s existence and the services offered. Such services can include free and confidential assessments, short‐term counseling, referrals and follow‐up services to employees who have personal or work‐related problems. An EAP can be particularly helpful to employees experiencing alcohol and substance abuse, stress, grief and family problems.
Employers with questions about implementing workplace violence prevention strategies should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
About the Author
Amy McAndrew is MEA’s Director of Member Legal Services and has over twenty years of experience as a labor and employment attorney.