The Costs of Workplace Violence is Too High to Ignore

by Renee Mielnicki, Esq.

Workplace violence continues to occupy headlines as mass shootings have occurred in workplaces around the nation over the last several years.  Violence at work is unfortunately more common than just what is read in the headlines. It includes threats, harassment, stalking, assaults, emotional abuse, and any other violent behavior that may disrupt the workforce.  As you may have seen in local and national news stories, workplace violence is often  indiscriminate and can affect persons in any place and any industry.

As an employer, it is essential to learn the categories of workplace violence.  First, there are the truly random acts of violence in which  the perpetrator has no connection to the employer or any employee.  In this situation, which is the most uncommon, the work site may be targeted by chance.  The second type of workplace violence occurs when a former employee  has a problem or issue with the employer or another employee and attempts retribution in the form of vicious acts.  The third workplace violence scenario occurs when  a customer or client of an employer targets the employer’s current employees.  Lastly, there is the situation where a domestic dispute spills over into the workplace.

Where violence enters the workplace, whether physically or mentally, it can be devastating to both the employees and the business. Besides the obvious physical and mental suffering of the victims, the business will experience a decreased production of work and damage to its reputation; all of which ultimately impacts the employer’s bottom line.  In order to mitigate these risks, employers must be aware of the issue and promptly engage in prevention and intervention.  In the unfortunate event that violence does actually occur, employers need to know how to appropriately respond.

Studies have shown that acts of violence in the workplace are usually not random.  While there is no real way to predict how, when, or even if, an incident will occur, employers should provide their employees with training to recognize behaviors that signal the potential for violence  among fellow employees, former employees or customers/clients.  Behaviors that may be cause for concern are aggressive outbursts, threats or the mention of weapons.  As far as domestic issues spilling over to work, signs such as unexplained injuries, disrupting or threatening phone calls or emails or disruptive visits may be a sign of a potential for violence in the workplace.  The ability to recognize these signs enable an employer to take preventive action, such as legal or police intervention.

Sometimes an employer is simply unable to intervene before the violence occurs.  If untrained, employees will react with panic, anxiety and fear.   These emotions can lead to an inability to act or feelings of helpless which can ultimately prevent the employee from evaluating their options.  Therefore, employees need to be trained how to respond. When employers provide training on how to deal with these types of stressful situations, employees will be more equipped to control their anxiety, assess the situation and then act accordingly.

Research has shown that workplace violence  typically only lasts a few minutes and the harm is usually done long before law enforcement can arrive on the scene.  Therefore, employees are the largest stakeholder in prevention and response.  Since this problem is so complex due to the unpredictably of these types of behaviors, employers should consult with qualified professionals to provide training to employees on how to recognize the risks for and respond to violence in the workplace.

For more information about training for your employees, or for help with any other HR issues, please contact us by calling 724-864-8745 or emailing hrcounselorscorner@eastcoastrm.com.

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