Reducing workplace violence
Employers can take steps to minimize the risks of workplace violence.

By now, we’ve all heard about the horrific and very public shooting of two TV news employees in Roanoke, Va., last year. The two young journalists were killed by a former employee of the same TV station. While incidences like this are shocking, they are, unfortunately, not uncommon. Companies can take steps to minimize the chances of workplace violence by understanding what the risk factors are and developing policies to minimize the opportunities for workers to be victims of such conduct.

How to reduce risks 

Richard Alaniz
Richard Alaniz

In order to prevent incidences of workplace violence to the greatest extent possible, companies need to take several steps:

• Develop a policy and strictly enforce it. If companies have not specifically addressed workplace violence, they need to create and implement a workplace violence policy. Any existing policies should be reviewed to see if they are still up to date and relevant. The policy should clearly spell out that certain behaviors will not be tolerated, including threats, physical and emotional abuse, damaging company property and bullying. It should also lay out disciplinary actions and what steps will be taken when employees violate any of the terms of the policy.

• Understand specific risks. Risks can be increased by industry, location, interaction with customers, company culture and other factors. Companies need to understand where they may be vulnerable and take steps to strengthen those areas. This can involve supplementing current security measures, such as alarms, sign-in systems and on-site cameras.

• Create a reporting system. It is important to allow employees to raise concerns about actual and potential violence in a way that lets them feel comfortable. Employers should establish a point person or clear chain of reporting so employees know exactly who to contact if they see something that concerns them. It may be worth creating an anonymous reporting system.

• Consider background checks. Running criminal background checks on potential new hires can help to alert companies to those who may have a past history of violence. However, employers must proceed carefully with background checks. Along with federal laws, some states and even some cities have laws that limit how background checks can be used in hiring decisions.

• In addition, any time employers conduct background checks on employees, they must be careful to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and any state- or local-specific laws and regulations.

• Remember labor and employment laws. Employers should also remember the implications that labor and employment laws may have on any workplace violence policy. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. In addition, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects employees who are engaged in “protected concerted activity.” This can include speech that some may view as provocative or threatening. Employers should consult with HR, in-house counsel and outside counsel to help sort out how labor and employment laws may impact a successful workplace violence policy.

• Prepare for the worst. Although companies can take steps to lessen the chances of workplace violence, it is not possible to completely safeguard the workplace. This means companies need to prepare themselves and their employees ahead of time for the possibility of threats, injury, or even life-threatening situations.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. Along with legal obligations, employers need to consider that workplace violence can shatter lives and cause long-term damage to company morale. Companies need to have a plan to minimize their risks, and be prepared to respond when and if the issue arises.