Because of the publicity it receives, it’s easy to think workplace violence is always about mass shootings and disgruntled employees. That’s not the case and having tunnel vision when it comes to workplace violence only serves to increase the likelihood of an incident happening
What are the Risks?
Perpetrators of violence at work is not limited to employees (past or present) and can include:
- Customers, clients, and patients
- Family members, spouses or partners (former or current), and acquaintances
- Employees (past or present)
Situational and Occupational Risk Factors
Certain factors and situations put workers at an increased risk of workplace violence.
- Working with the public, handling money or prescription drugs – i.e. taxi/Uber driver, store clerks, and pharmacists.
- Working in various healthcare settings – including social workers, home-health care providers, and certain types of clinics.
- Working alone, in small numbers (e.g. store clerks, real estate agents), or in isolated or low traffic areas (e.g. washrooms, storage areas, utility rooms).
- Working in education – i.e. teachers, support staff.
- Working at a bar or other establishment that serves alcohol.
- Working late at night or at remote or isolated locations.
- High stress times – downsizing, tax season, holidays, pay days, report cards and parent-teacher conferences, and during performance review time.
Be a Better Supervisor
Not only must you broaden your mindset about what workplace violence is, you must cast a larger net when looking for ways to prevent incidents and deal with them if they happen.
- Establish Standards for Unacceptable Conduct and Enforce Consequences
- Threats of harm – physical, verbal, written, cyber.
- Intimidating behavior – physical, verbal, written, cyber, gestures.
- Displaying a weapon or an object that looks like a weapon.
- Physically attacking someone.
- Any behavior that would give a co-worker, customer, or anyone else at work, reason to believe their health or safety is at risk.
- Action, enforcement, and consequences must be swift and decisive.
- Be Alert to Warning Signs
Often, there are behavior and attitude changes leading up to an act of violence. Become familiar with attitude changes and patterns of behavior that could signal potential violence. Keep in mind, just because a person has one or more of these signs it doesn’t mean they will become violent. Use the list to strengthen your awareness and help you decide if there is reason to be alarmed and take action.
- Increased absences, decreased productivity, erratic work patterns.
- Upset or stressed about issues and events at work or home.
- Major changes to personality, behavior, or appearance.
- Suddenly or recently has become withdrawn and anti-social.
- Uses intimidation tactics, is aggressive, or verbally or physically abusive.
- Challenges/resists authority.
- Blames others for problems in life or work; suspicious, holds grudges.
- Use/abuse of drugs and/or alcohol.
- Unwelcome obsessive romantic attention.
- Makes threatening references to other incidents of violence.
- Makes threats to harm self, others, or property.
- Possesses or is fascinated with weapons.
- Has known history of violence.
- Has communicated specific proposed act(s) of disruption or violence.
Attitude and Demeanor
- Isolated or a loner – especially if it is a recent development/change.
- Comes across as morally superior and/or self-righteous.
- A sense of entitlement and a belief that rules don’t apply to them.
- Wants revenge for perceived or actual wrong-doings, humiliation, or degradation.
- Doesn’t see options for action except violence.
- Respond to Harassing, Threatening, and Violent Behavior
Level One – Early Warning Signs
- Verbally abusive
- Get HR involved ASAP.
- Meet with employee and be direct about the purpose of the meeting.
- Listen to their side of the story and get their input.
- Ask how you can help – but identify performance/conduct issues and steps to correct the problem.
- Set limits on what is and is not acceptable – both in performance and behavior.
- Give employee a timeline for making these changes and detail the consequences.
- Document all incidents, corrective actions, time-frame, and consequences.
Level Two – Escalation
- Argumentative with clients, patients, co-workers, management.
- Not following policies and is not correcting/changing their behavior or performance.
- Sabotaging or stealing company property and equipment.
- Talking about hurting co-workers/management.
- Sending threatening emails, letters.
- Making accusations of being victimized by management.
- Call 911 if needed.
- Get HR involved and other available experts to seek help in assessing/responding to the situation.
- Secure your safety and the safety of others.
- Avoid an audience when dealing with the employee.
- Remain calm, speaking slowly, softly, and clearly.
- Ask the employee to sit down; see if she/he can follow directions.
- Ask questions relevant to the employee’s complaint such as:
- What can you do to try to regain control of yourself?
- What can I do to help you regain control?
- What do you hope to gain by committing violence?
- Why do you believe you need to be violent to achieve that?
- Try to direct the aggressive tendencies into another kind of behavior so that the employee sees she/he has choices about how to react.
- Document the behaviors and the incident.
Level Three – Increased Escalation
- Has suicidal thoughts.
- Gets in physical fights or assaults someone.
- Destroys property.
- Displays intense and extreme anger and may have a weapon.
- Call 911.
- Remain calm and work to secure your safety and others who might be in danger.
- Leave the area if your own safety is at risk.
- Cooperate with law enforcement.
- Details and Documentation
- Conduct trainingso employees know how to access assistance for themselves or others.
- Vetall employees and contractors by using background checks, checking with references and other due diligence prior to hiring.
- Retainany threatening emails or voicemail messages, and record all threatening acts or behavior, in case legal action arises in the future.