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Avoiding Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is a growing concern for companies of all sizes nationwide, with nearly two million American workers being victimized by violence every year, according to the American Management Association.

Small businesses are not immune from this unfortunate trend, and the close working relationships at most small businesses mean the effects of violent or bullying incidents can be felt more closely. While every business hopes it is not affected by undesirable behavior, it’s important for business owners to develop and implement violence prevention and response plans.

Workplace violence goes beyond direct assaults to include other forms of aggression: verbal threats or intimidation, bullying, vandalism, intentional negligence and other anti-social acts.

Strong Policies Can Protect Your Team

A zero-tolerance policy can reduce the odds of a company being victimized by workplace violence. New hires and existing employees should receive written policies informing them that violence, in any form, damage to company property, threats, or intimidation is grounds for dismissal. Staff should also understand they would face disciplinary action if they behave inappropriately toward customers, fellow employees or supervisors.

Similarly, workers should also be informed about the availability of counseling resources. Arranging counseling for troubled workers is often more effective than simply firing someone and hoping they never return to the workplace.

Company policies should also ensure that terminated employees are treated with dignity. Losing a job is a stressful event that compounds other problems an employee may have, and an inappropriate or dangerous reaction.

Sample policies are available from a number of sources, including state and federal workplace safety regulators, and your insurance provider. Policy templates can be customized to meet your company’s needs, and should be reviewed by your attorney before being distributed to employees.

Careful applicant screening is also helpful in preventing workplace violence. Verifying applicants’ work history, qualifications and potential criminal background can help identify higher-risk candidates before they’re hired.

Warning Signs

Business owners and managers should be trained to recognize the warning signals that often indicate an employee may be experiencing problems, or may be about to behave inappropriately.

Potential red flags include:

  • Threats against co-workers or supervisors
  • Complaints about unfair treatment
  • Changes in behavior, job performance or mood swings
  • Outbursts such as swearing or slamming doors
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Undesired or obsessive romantic feelings toward a coworker
  • Financial problems
  • Poor performance reviews

Any event in which a worker feels victimized could lead to violence if employers aren’t aware of the potential risks.

Physical Security

Because workplace violence may be committed by someone coming from outside your company, such as a customer, former employee or a romantic partner of an employee, company owners should review the physical security measures within and outside their facilities.

For example, determine how accessible your workplace needs to be, and make sure parking areas and your building’s exterior are well lit and free of shrubbery in which people can hide. Security cameras, electronic access cards, “smart” doors and other security measures can reduce the risk of workplace violence by keeping offenders off the premises.

In high-risk workplaces, like 24/7 convenience stores, security procedures such as reducing the amount of cash on hand are also beneficial to employee safety.

While even the most stringent policies and procedures may not prevent workplace violence, taking prudent steps to identify the risks reduces the odds of your company or employees being victimized by inappropriate behavior.