Having a comprehensive violence prevention policy in place can minimize the chance of outbreaks of violence in the workplace. Policies are useful for setting clear expectations regarding the standards of acceptable behaviour and the consequences for violating them. Here are some tips for developing a workplace violence policy:17
Workplace violence policies should:
- Be brief and simple.
- Convey that all employees are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment.
- Provide clear definitions of all prohibited conduct.
- Cover incidents involving co-workers as well as incidents involving outside individuals.
- Implement a “zero tolerance” policy to convey a strong message that violence is unacceptable, but be cautious about using the label “zero tolerance.” Zero tolerance should not be confused with automatic suspension or dismissal, as it simply means that no degree or type of violence is acceptable in the workplace.
- Affirm that the company will respond appropriately to all reported incidents and state the reporting procedure.
- Encourage reporting and provide multiple options for reporting without promising strict confidentiality, and put in place a whistle-blowing mechanism to help witnesses and victims to report violence.
- Ensure the policy contains clear prohibitions and sanctions against retaliation or reprisal.
- Affirm that the company will act to stop inappropriate behaviour and violence.
- Include a dispute resolution mechanism for minor incidents.
- Indicate clearly that all physical assaults will be reported to the police, and follow through on this policy.
- Consider describing the process of initiating a complaint under the policy, as well as the procedures that will be followed during the investigation, as this ought to encourage consistency in administering the policy.
- Specify the consequences that may be imposed if the policy is violated. These consequences should range in severity from a verbal or written reprimand up to a suspension or dismissal. The policy should also explain that more severe consequences will be imposed for more serious or subsequent violations. Inflexible policies that mandate a specific disciplinary response tend to be more problematic to enforce before a court or tribunal.
Here are some tips on putting the policy into effect:
- Consider designating and training a response team to investigate reports of violence or harassment. It is advisable to include union and employee representatives, as well as medical staff, to ensure a comprehensive investigation of complaints and confidence in the investigation.
- As part of any disciplinary/corrective response, consider whether offenders should be required to undergo a psychological assessment to help determine the appropriate conditions to be placed on their employment, such as regular anger management counselling. Monitor and assess the employee’s participation in such conditions.
- Ensure the policy is enforced to avoid the risk that the employee’s behaviour is seen to be condoned, which can lead to the undermining of employers’ discipline decisions in court or at arbitration.
- Ensure the policy is accompanied by training. Employees should be trained in risk identification, risk avoidance, conflict management, emergency response and reporting. This will make staff better able to identify employees at risk of violent behaviour and to intervene when there is an escalating risk of a violent incident.
Policies will only be valuable if used, and will only be used if they are clear and practical. Expect that developing and implementing policies and procedures will take time, resources and hard work. A policy that sits in a drawer gathering dust will not minimize the potential for workplace violence.