The Prevention of Workplace Violence

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees and customers. By failing to properly vet job applicants and by not providing timely response to interoffice conflicts, an organization is leaving itself open to the threat of workplace violence. Luckily with a few simple steps that can be deployed by an effective Threat Assessment and Management team, your organization can avoid interruptions to operations and build value with stakeholders, allowing your business to focus on business.

Mitigating the risk of workplace violence can be accomplished through the following steps, all of which can be achieved by completing the first step:

  1. Employing a competent security firm that employs experts in Threat Assessment and Management core competencies
  2. Developing and implementing thorough hiring and background investigation processes
  3. Maintaining Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  4. Conducting routine employee training specifically focusing on conflict resolution techniques

A competent security firm can serve as an extension of the risk management and human resources departments and can lead the development and implementation of processes and procedures relating to all facets of safety and security. A comprehensive security program begins with Threat Assessment and Management (TAM). In the workplace, threats typically arise in one of four contexts: An employee expressing thoughts of harming another employee

  1. A customer making threats to employees
  2. A personal conflict of an employee, typically with an intimate partner, spilling over into the workplace
  3. An individual targeting the organization, believing that the organization has committed acts of environmental or humanitarian abuse

The FBI has categorized workplace violence into four types:

  • Type 1: violent acts by criminals who have no other connection to the workplace, such as robbery
  • Type 2: violence directed at employees by persons for whom an organization provides services, such as customers or students
  • Type 3: violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee
  • Type 4: violence in the workplace by someone with a personal relationship with an employee, such as a domestic partner

So what’s the difference between threats and violence? Threats typically supersede acts of violence, which are the end result of a generally understandable and recognizable process of reasoning and behavior. The issue is how to recognize and manage the warning behaviors displayed by potentially violent offenders in order to prevent the violence from occurring. This is why it is so important to have trained threat managers as part of your Threat Assessment and Management team.

An effective Threat Assessment and Management team will recognize warning behaviors and take necessary measures to assess and manage threatening individuals. Systematic risk factors that can increase the probability of violence commonly experienced by organizations that do not employ a competent Threat Assessment and Management team are: 

  1. Failure to respond to warning behaviors
  2. Failure to resolve interoffice conflicts early
  3. Failure to deal with issues of (real or perceived) victimization

Reasons that employees tend not to report warning behaviors:

  1. Fear of negative consequences to career
  2. Fear of negative consequences to personal safety
  3. Shame for oneself or for the perpetrator
  4. A lack of trust in the employer to respond
  5. Belief that abuse is part of the job

In addition to employing a Threat Assessment & Management team, promoting an employee empowerment culture where workers are encouraged to (anonymously) report any issue of public safety is crucial in preventing violence. Routine workplace violence training is essential for all employees and should cover the following topics:

  • The organization’s workplace violence prevention policy
  • Risk factors that contribute to assault
  • Early recognition of warning behaviors that may lead to assaults
  • Techniques to diffuse aggressive behavior
  • Emergency procedures for when dealing with various situations: hostile customer, natural disaster, active shooter, medical emergency, etc.

Considering the prevalence of intercompany violence, let’s first explore the issue of employees. Coworker-on-coworker violence has been proven to be more deadly than violence directed at employees by customers or clients. A reason for this is the fact that several core psychopathic personality traits appear attractive in job applicants; therefore psychopaths commonly end up with jobs in reputable firms. Psychopaths are very charming and are highly skilled in social manipulation, making the pre-employment interview an ideal environment to deploy their talents. Many HR managers mistake psychopathic behaviors as leadership characteristics.

The best way to avoid threatening individuals in the workplace is by not hiring them in the first place. This requires a detailed background investigation process as well as ensuring HR managers are prepared for interviews and trained in interviewing techniques. Background investigations need to review criminal records, previous employment and references, periods of unemployment, DMV records, and need to include drug and alcohol screening.

In most documented cases of workplace mass murders, the assailants have perceived themselves as being victims, creating a deeply felt personal grievance, often the loss of a job which at times coincides with personal losses, specifically financial stress. Properly handling terminations is crucial in preventing violent situations. Procedures for these proceedings need to be in place and carefully executed with the assistance of security personnel. Credentials and access need to be revoked immediately and all communications with the individual need to be closely monitored moving forward.

Threats made by current or former intimate partners are particularly disconcerting considering that the more personal the relationship between the individual making the threat and the target the more likely the threat will precede violent behavior. It is extremely important that the organization have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in place, allowing for victims of domestic abuse to report such behavior early on before escalation.

When you look at the common areas of workplace violence, optimism should tell you that with the right measures in place, workplace violence can be avoided. Employee-on-employee violence can be mitigated through the development and implementation of thorough hiring and background investigation processes. External factors like customers or crusaders posing threats should be thwarted by physical security measures if not first by the Threat Assessment & Management team. Intimate partner violence experienced by employees can be detected early and managed through the use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).