How to protect your company and employees from workplace violence

Q: We have an employee who has made a series of threats to co-workers. He boasts about having a gun. We are considering terminating his employment. What should we do?

A: Employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees. While you seem to have reasonable grounds to suspend or terminate this person, you must at the same time ensure that nobody is harmed if he becomes violent. Workplace violence is a serious concern for companies of all sizes. Workplace violence is defined as: any conduct in the workplace which causes an individual to fear for their personal safety, the safety of their co-workers, family, friends and/or property.

According to the Dept. of Justice, 516 cases of homicide occurred in the workplace in 2006. However, the number of assaults, not resulting in death, amounted to 1,700,000 during the same period. This extremely high number, 1.7 million, highlights the prevalence of employees being victims of workplace violence. Many employers realize the importance of having a security presence in place before terminating someone who may have even the slightest chance of reacting violently.

It is extremely important to choose a security company whose personal protection specialists have proven experience in this area. A professional security firm will provide experienced agents who will be able to blend into the surroundings without alerting anyone to their real purpose. If they are to be armed, they will be carrying concealed weapons that will not be noticed by anyone at the place of employment.

In many instances, the person being terminated may focus on one person such as a HR manager and hold them responsible. In these days of easy access to personal information, it may be necessary to have a personal protection specialist placed at the manager’s residence for a few days. We have handled cases where we have had to place four or five agents at several managers’ residences on a 24 hour basis for several days.

When it comes to hiring personal protection specialists in order to safeguard one’s employees against workplace violence, the rule of thumb is to hire them from three to four days. This period is commonly known as the “cooling off” period. If a terminated employee is feeling resentful and angry, it is very likely that these feelings can worsen as they “stew” over their misfortune. They can make the situation even worse if they abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

Employers/HR Managers should keep in mind that the three – four day “cooling off’ period is a guideline, NOT a rule. We have worked many serious cases where our agents were required to remain at the workplace and/or “shadow” a threatened manager for several weeks. Each case should be carefully examined by the company and security consultant working in close harmony. A proper threat assessment needs to be conducted on a case by case basis.

The following are important points to consider:
• Most incidents of workplace violence start as a small confrontation.
• If left unchecked, minor conflicts will likely escalate
• Conflicts often lead to threats
• Threats need to be taken very seriously as Violence includes threats

When companies declare that they have a zero tolerance policy toward work place violence, they must mean this and not just pay “lip service” to it. The policy needs to apply to all employees, regardless of rank, status or seniority. Reported incidents need to be investigated and followed-up immediately. If the firm is not equipped to conduct an in-house investigation, it should be immediately outsourced.

If an employee is suspected of having committed a work place violence incident or to have engaged in conduct that caused an individual to fear for their personal safety, or the safety of their co-workers, depending upon the results of the preliminary finding, that employee may have to be placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation.

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