Workplace violence has long been a problem for the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration stated in 2002 that more than 2 million Americans report being victimized by workplace violence and that many more incidents go unreported.
Now, SHRM and other organizations say that incidents in workplace violence may increase as people return to the office.
Why? Business leaders polled in a 2022 ONTIC Center for Protective Intelligence survey said increased physical threats and company backlash were caused by rising extremism and social and political issues (32%). Approximately 28% of respondents said that preventing an active shooter event at one of their locations was an issue keeping them up at night.
“Workplace violence isn’t something to take lightly,” says Bill Harrison, CEO of ComplianceBridge. “Without proactively addressing workplace violence, the fallout could be severe.”
Let’s explore how you can protect your organization and employees from internal and external acts of workplace violence.
One of the first steps businesses should take is to conduct a risk assessment of their organization. A risk assessment gives employers a framework to assess and control risk, and it comes in four parts:
It’s not just the physical workspace that needs to be evaluated. Take a good look at the policies and procedures that address workplace violence within your organization.
These policies should be well-publicized and easily accessible to all employees so there is no confusion about what constitutes workplace violence and the consequences for engaging in it, up to and including termination.
It’s also a good idea to create proactive policies, such as conducting background checks for new hires, regularly reviewing the hiring process, scheduling evaluations for personnel working in stressful positions and offering counseling to employees who may be struggling.
Workplace violence prevention training is vitally important. Training should cover what to do in the event of an incident, how to identify potential warning signs, and how to defuse potentially violent situations. It should also include security procedures to ensure worker and bystander safety during violent situations and the signs and symptoms of domestic violence.
Organizations also should establish proper reporting procedures for after the event ends. Employees should know to whom they should report any incidents, whether it involved a coworker, manager or customer.
“Employees should know that their reports will be taken seriously and that they will not face retaliation for speaking up,” says Shaun Martin, CEO of Denver Home Buyer. “If employees feel like they can’t speak up about workplace violence, it will be much harder to prevent and address it.”
Workplace violence doesn’t just come from the outside. Federal agencies broadly define workplace violence to include bullying, verbal harassment and intimidation.
Employers must create a culture of respect in the workplace with no exemptions. Open communication can build trust between employees and management, resulting in a more positive, productive work environment.
“Fostering a culture of respect and open communication in the workplace can help identify potential issues or conflict before they escalate into violence,” says James Jason, Founder and CEO of Notta AI. “This is effective because it can help employees feel comfortable raising concerns or issues before they become major problems.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to workplace violence because the problem comes in so many different forms, from workplace bullying to active shooter scenarios. However, it is always management’s job to take problem behavior seriously and mediate situations before they escalate, says Caleb Ulffers, Cofounder & CEO of Haven Athletic.
“Acknowledge issues, work to resolve them and act when needed,” he says. “Never, ever ignore a brewing situation and expect that it will simply go away.”
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