Shootings at a manufacturing plant in Illinois and a municipal center in Virginia graphically illustrate a disturbing trend of workplace violence. In 2017, there were 458 incidents of workplace homicide nationally, enough for experts to label the violence an epidemic. High profile cases, horrific as they are, tend to overshadow the fact that workplace violence happens every day in different ways. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that at least 2 million Americans are impacted by violence in the workplace every year—including threats, harassment, intimidation, and homicide.
Workplace violence may not be entirely preventable, but there are concrete steps employers can take to mitigate the impact of violence in the workplace. Violence prevention efforts should include careful pre-employment screening, running awareness campaigns, dealing effectively with complaints, recognizing warning signs, and training personnel for worst-case scenarios. A robust policy of harassment prevention is a key human resources tool to defuse potentially violent situations before they escalate.
ESSENTIAL READING: Recognizing the Levels of Violence and Response, U.S. Department of Labor
Lessons from the Xerox workplace shooting in Honolulu
Workplace gun violence is thankfully not common in Hawaii, but it does happen; many will remember the November 1999 shooting at the Xerox building in Honolulu, where technician Brian Uyesugi shot and killed seven co-workers.
While it is impossible to be certain, some have speculated that this tragedy could have been prevented. Uyesugi was a disgruntled employee with mental health issues; his work history included incidents of threats, intimidation, and even arrest while on the job. The company and mental health providers eventually settled with the families of the victims in a civil case that alleged that they did not do enough to treat his issues.
As a friend of the family of the youngest victim in the shooting, ALTRES Risk and Safety Director, John Fielding, remembers the Xerox murders quite well. “So many people were deeply affected by this senseless act of violence,” he recalls. Even 20 years later, this tragedy can help companies better understand how to prepare, train and react to a potentially violent situation.
“Having a zero-tolerance policy is the key and first step in dealing with potential issues,” says Fielding. “Awareness of what’s happening with your employees is essential. Responding quickly and providing decisive consequences for those who violate the policy is recommended. Training on how to escape, elude, evade, or fight should be taught, and drills should be conducted regularly.”
6 ways to a better workplace violence prevention policy
One of the best ways for employers to provide a safe work environment while preparing their employees for the possibility of violence is through policy. A policy won’t stop bullets, it’s true. However, your company policy can help reduce the threat of workplace violence and increase the protection of employees and the company, in case of an incident.
A published policy creates the opportunity for conversation with employees about workplace violence. It might even save lives. From a liability standpoint, it’s a no brainer: your company needs to have a zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence, in which your stance on guns and other potential weapons in the workplace is clearly articulated.
A few key points to consider with regard to your workplace violence prevention policy:
- Take a zero-tolerance stance on workplace violence in all its forms. This leads to the implementation of systems, which focus on reporting, discipline, and prevention training.
- Have a mechanism in place to encourage employees to report concerns confidentially or anonymously. Few violent acts happen without warning of any kind. An established reporting mechanism gives companies a chance to nip issues in the bud.
- Publish your policy regarding workplace violence and firearms on the premises. Post it publicly, make sure it is in the employee handbook and/or website–everywhere company policy is made available. Ensure employees fully understand these policies and that managers are trained to respond effectively.
- Make sure your policy is consistent with state law; Hawaii gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation. If you have employees in more than one state, your policy must be consistent with laws in each state in which you operate.
- Be sure to clearly state where firearms are prohibited or permitted, including public and private vehicles. Gun laws in Hawaii impose strict registration rules, permit requirements, and restrictions.
- Consider occupational threats. Certain industries (such as retail sales, taxicab, and security) are at a greater workplace violence risk. For men, work-related homicide is most commonly due to robbery. For women, the assailants are most commonly a relative or domestic partner (Source).
Related: Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.