Workplace Violence

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The Business Disaster Waiting to Happen

Everybody knows that Joe is a good worker. His work is his life – heck, people who work with him get the idea that Joe doesn’t even have much of a life, outside of his work. He’s quiet, not much of a joiner. But lately, he doesn’t seem to take criticism very well. But everybody knows he’s a good worker.

Joe could also be a human and business disaster waiting to happen. Because he could be just one bad supervisor, one bad review, one poorly timed wisecrack away from doing something damaging, even violent. Joe could be a walking time bomb of an employee when it comes to workplace violence.

Think we’re overstating the problem? People like Joe are rare, right? Think again.

Workplace violence is the second highest risk for employers – second only to slips and falls. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there are 2.1 million cases per year – 5,500 cases per day, resulting in a staggering 17 homicides a week. It’s so bad that the Center for Disease Control has declared workplace violence an epidemic.

The impact of this epidemic on business continuity, even without loss of life, is often catastrophic. An Oxford University study found that after a violent incident, publicly traded companies average a 15% decrease in stock values that can remain depressed for up to a year. A single incident can put a small to mid-size business out of business. Even if you stay in business, your brand value can dwindle away with the ticking of the clock.

The average jury awards for workplace violence are $2.1 million; by comparison Sexual Harassment awards average only $78,000. Which one of these hazards do you spend the most time and effort trying to prevent?

Cyber sabotage is the fastest growing type of workplace violence, which makes cybersecurity increasingly critical. It’s relatively “clean” and easy for a disgruntled worker to vent his/her frustration with the company/supervisor by destroying computer records or introducing a virus.

So how do you plan for an emotionally imbalanced, non-communicative “good worker” who could gut your business in a heartbeat?

Fortunately, workplace violence is never spontaneous, there are always warning signs. Run-ins with supervisors cause 86% of all cases. Job loss is the #1 trigger; domestic violence is #2.

Violent or damaging incidents can be avoided if co-workers and supervisors recognize the violence continuum and act accordingly:

  • Level 1 – Non-verbal, indirect threats (to get attention)
  • Level 2 – Loud outbursts, yelling, property destruction (wants more attention)
  • Level 3 – A violent incident, at-risk termination
  • Level 4 – Drastic change in personality & hygiene, leaves early, comes in late
  • Level 5 – Withdrawal (packs desk, takes down personal items), significant violence is imminent

The good news: Employee Assistance Program (EAP) support can help to stop the escalation up through Level 3. The bad news: after that it’s probably too late.

Just to comply with the OSHA General Duty Clause, and to protect you from potential litigation, you need to recognize workplace violence as a ‘hazard’, with plans in place to deal with it.

At minimum, you need:

A Corporate written policy (to include domestic violence)
Training and education of all employees about your policy, how to identify potential problems, how to report it, etc.
Best practices with regard to physical security and access control

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