Workplace violence is a major concern for both employers and employees. Not only does it adversely affect the victims of violence, but it can undermine employee morale, cause good employees to leave, adversely impact employee performance, and even negatively affect employers’ bottom line. Unfortunately, since workplace violence can occur in any workplace, all employers should understand how best to prepare for and respond to this impending threat.
C2 recently confronted this issue when an employee of one of our government contracting clients complained that a co-worker in her workplace was exhibiting aggressive behavior. The employee was concerned because the co-worker had shown a short-fuse during recent encounters, had slammed his hand in frustration a few times, and the employee was feeling nervous and upset on a continuing basis. Both the client and the employee wanted to know what could be done.
A. What is Workplace Violence?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace violence consists of any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It can range from verbal threats and abuse to actual physical assaults and even homicide; and can involve not just employees, but also clients, customers, or visitors.
Each year, nearly two million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence. Researchers have identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for certain workers and worksites. Working alone or in isolated areas may contribute to the potential for violence. Additionally, the time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence. Jobs or worksites with a high stress level also appear to be contributing factors that increase the risk for workplace violence.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workplace violence falls into four categories: Criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, and personal relationships, which overwhelmingly affects women. Statistics for workplace violence-related injuries and deaths occurring during 2013, categorized by industry, include the following:
- Government: 37,110 injuries, 128 deaths
- Education and health services: 22,590 injuries, 35 deaths
- Professional and Business Services: 4,460 injuries, 65 deaths
- Financial activities: 1,100 injuries, 37 deaths
- Transportation and warehousing: 840 injuries, 71 deaths
B. What can my company do to be prepared for workplace violence?
It is not enough for employers to simply know whether their worksites are statistically more likely to suffer an incident of violence. Employers should educate and train their managers on how best to handle violent situations if they occur. Employees should also receive education and training on how to avoid, recognize, and if necessary report violence in the workplace. While every company and worksite are a little different, the following is a good starting point for any employer:
- Educate employees about the organization’s zero tolerance policy. A good zero tolerance policy clearly establishes that violence or threats of violence will not be tolerated at the workplace. Make sure you communicate the policy to your employees. It is critical that employees understand that they should report any concerns regarding incidences of workplace violence. Additionally, train supervisors and employees that reporting unusual behavior to Human Resources is the best initial step.
- Enforce the organization’s policy and report violations. Treat everyone the same. For example, if you write up one employee for a questionable outburst at work, that should be your practice for other employees who commit similar infractions. Consistency and fairness in enforcing policies will help illustrate to your employees that your zero tolerance policy is more than just words on a page.
- Secure your workplace. Make sure to keep your employees as secure as possible. This may mean checking that all doors are properly locked or that security cameras are functioning. If you are aware of any malfunctioning security equipment or any potentially vulnerable areas at the workplace, you should immediately report your findings to the appropriate person. In today’s world, keeping unwelcome intruders out of the workplace has become increasingly important. Other good security related practices include: publishing to employees the location of safety equipment and first aid kits, designating specific person(s) to account for members of their work group or department, providing easy access to a phone to contact emergency personnel, and making the list of contacts readily available for employees to refer to in case of an emergency.
- Create a culture of respect and tolerance. Make sure your managers set the example. If you become easily outraged or yell at employees, then you may unwittingly inspire other managers or employees to emulate you. A climate that tolerates or fosters needlessly aggressive behavior can increase tensions and thereby increase the risk of violence. Strive to create the type of environment that cultivates goal-oriented creativity and a shared sense of business purpose.
- Identify and Reduce Stress. Review employee qualifications to ensure they match job requirements; and make sure employees are not overworked vis-a-vie their co-workers. Employees experiencing a build-up of workplace stressors may be at increased risk for acts of aggression or violence. Managers should routinely talk with their employees about their job tasks and make sure that work is distributed in an equitable fashion across their team.
C. Impacts to Government Contractors
Workplace violence has the potential to impact federal government contractors in a couple of unique ways. First, an employee who verbalizes threats or actually commits an act of violence against someone else (even if it is outside of work) may jeopardize his security clearance level or may be asked by the government to not return to the worksite, which can leave the employer in a serious staffing bind. More significantly for the company’s bottom line, prime and subcontracts may contain cancellation or termination provisions that may be invoked by the client or the prime contractor in cases where crimes are committed or violent acts threaten the integrity of the work being performed on the contract.
With regards to our client, we were able to walk them through the process of reinforcing their zero-tolerance policy, training their employees, and counseling the co-worker who was exhibiting aggressive behavior. But unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to eliminate workplace violence. At a minimum, employers should do more than assume it could never happen to them and, instead, craft a reasonable plan to educate, train, and support their employees so that workplace violence has less of an opportunity to rear its ugly head.
C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.