Preventing Workplace Violence

Do you as an employer have a plan to address workplace violence?  This topic is front and center in the wake of the recent workplace shootings in Hesston, KS, Kalamazoo, MI, and Roanoke, VA.  Although legislation has been introduced to provide a “safe harbor” for employees and employers to report violent or threatening behavior, it is important for employers to assess their own workplaces and look at what can be done to make that environment as safe as possible.

The House of Representatives introduced the “Safe Harbor for Reporting Violent Behavior Act” on February 11, 2016, in response to the on-air shooting of a television reporter and cameraman in Roanoke, VA.  This bill would provide immunity from lawsuits to individuals who, in good faith, make a report about an employee (or potential employee) who exhibits violent or threatening behavior.

However, regardless of whether or not this bill passes, employers still have a duty to examine their workplace violence policies and take steps to decrease any possible dangers in the workplace.  Several things that should be done include:

  • Have a policy in place prohibiting weapons, violence and threats of violence and make sure it includes a provision for employees to report behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable;
  • Provide employee training on these weapons and violence policies;
  • Have a clear discipline procedure regarding any violations of the violence policy; and,
  • Arrange for the police or a security expert to assess your physical workplace.

Many times, employees are afraid to come forward or make a complaint about a fellow employee.  However, often in cases of actual workplace violence, there were clear warning signs that were not acted upon.  For instance, the Roanoke, Virginia shooter had a reputation among co-workers as being “difficult to work with” and he would often have “run-ins” with co-workers.  Co-workers reported after the incident that they had repeatedly felt uncomfortable and threatened around him. Although this is not always the case, having a system that allows employees to make a confidential report will encourage them to come forward without fear of reprisal, hopefully before the unimaginable occurs.

It is also wise to have an outside expert assess your workplace for vulnerability to violence. Amarillo Police Department Sgt. Jerome Godfrey reviews all Amarillo public school campuses and their risk for violence.  He looks at simple security recommendations such as locked doors and appropriate lighting and provides active shooter training.  Sgt. Godfrey or Cpl. Danny Perez will perform a similar service for your local business. They will assess your risks, give security suggestions and talk to employees about what to do in the event of an active shooter situation.  To set up a time for Sgt. Godfrey or Cpl. Perez to visit your workplace, you can call (806) 378-9439.

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