Unfortunately, one of the possible responses to a reduction in force, and other internal and external stressors, is workplace violence. Employers can be liable to employees and customers for their negligence that allows workplace violence to occur. What steps can employers take to protect their employees and themselves?

Many circumstances can result in violence in the workplace. A termination of employment, reduction in force, demotion, poor review , internal complaint, or any adverse employment action can cause a violent response. Outside stressors such as financial, health or family concerns can cause problems in the workplace as well. Domestic violence often carries over into the workplace. Moreover, some businesses, such as healthcare or late-night retail, are more prone to incidents then others.

Employers can take important steps to preventing violence in their workplace.

  1. During the hiring process, an employer should:

- Centralize recruiting, interviewing and hiring.

_ Review all info before hiring.

- Investigate all gaps.

- Conduct background checks.

- Consider non-discriminatory selection tools.

- Extend offers pending background results.

- Record investigative & screening efforts.

  1. Training: Employers should train supervisors in identifying and responding to risks of violence in the workplace, in the same way employers train supervisors on other safety risks, such as drug use, fire and accidents.
  2. Supervision: Communicative supervison can give a disgruntled employee an outlet before she or he turns to violence. Employers should ensure that employees know how to voice their concerns via an Open Door Policy and that managers know how to resolve disputes.
  3. Monitoring employees: With proper notice to employees and implementation of policy, employers should take full advantage of employee monitoring, including drug testing; accessing employees use of email and the internet; searches; and, video monitoring. While employers should make sure they do not exceed the appropriate privacy boundaries of such monitoring, employers need to be aware of what their employees are doing at work.
  4. Don’t ignore employee personal issues that enter the workplace. Employers should require employees to advise them of any temporary restraining orders to which they are a party.
  5. Emphasize individual responsibility. Employers should train employees on the importance of taking responsibility for their own behavior and safety in the workplace.
  6. Implement policies prohibiting workplace violence. Employers also should implement other policies related to workplace safety, including policies on visitors, confidentiality, use of interactive systems, video and other monitoring and workplace searches.
  7. Be sensitive to warning signs from employees, such as:

- Threats of harm (direct or veiled).

- Intimidating and/or harassing behavior.

- Carrying and/or flashing weapons.

- Paranoia (“They’re out to get me”).

- Moral righteousness (“I’ve been wronged”).

- Can’t (or won’t) take criticism; does nothing wrong.

- Holds a grudge, especially against management.

- Expresses desperation over work, family, personal.

- Has history of violent behavior (on or off job).

- Fascinated with incidents of workplace violence.

- Approves of violence by “screwed” employees.

- Ignores co-worker safety.

- No life outside of work.

- A loner; “he was a quiet man.”

  1. Assess readiness. Employers should assess physical and electronic security (office/home); internal resources (HR, legal, risk management, Media/PR); and external resources (police, security, legal, EAP, outplacement) regularly.
  2. Manage separations. Whether performance or economic-driven, employers must manage separations appropriately. Employers should communicate separations humanely and offer assistance such as severance, EAP and outplacement services where possible to ease the transition. In addition to protecting the interests of the departing employee, employers also should protect their own interests by cutting off access to the interactive systems, customers, and the premises. Employers can use confidentiality and non-solicitation agreements and covenants-not-to-compete to protect their business interests.

When confronted with a suspected incident of violence, employers should:

  • Focus on the employee’s conduct, not on his/her motivation!
  • Treat like violators alike.
  • Weigh the risks of being wrong.

When in doubt, kick them out.