Each year almost 2 million American workers report to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that they were victims of workplace violence — and many more cases go unreported. Although much of this violence is out of their control, employers can take actions that will cut down on this terrible statistic.
Although we didn’t need another tragic reminder, the recent shooting at a California quarry during a safety meeting shows that no workplace is immune to violence. All employers need to consider the possibility of workplace violence and take steps to reduce the risk to their employees.
Starting with basics, employers should consider these practical steps toward workplace safety, each of which may not necessarily make sense for every employer:
- Install good lighting all around the employer’s premises.
- Provide adequate security in parking areas, common areas, stairwells, cafeterias, and lounges.
- Limit access to work areas.
- Discourage former employees from coming to visit.
- Install alarms and surveillance cameras, where appropriate.
- Arrange regular police checks or provide limited access to the premises during high-risk hours (e.g., late at night and early in the morning).
- Educate supervisors about personality characteristics that are correlated with potentially violent employees.
- Train supervisors in conflict resolution and observation skills.
- Periodically survey employee perceptions about working conditions, changes in work loads, equality of treatment, and problems with the work environment not addressed by management.
- Develop and implement a policy concerning violence and harassment that encourages the reporting of all incidents to the employee’s direct supervisor or a designated management official. All reports should be documented, as well as the findings of any investigation. Observations and statements by the individual accused of misconduct also should be recorded. When appropriate, local law enforcement authorities should be notified.
- Once the investigation is completed, take appropriate action to counsel, discipline, or terminate the offending violent employee as soon as possible.
- Provide counseling for employees who have been laid off or fired. Offer outplacement or Employee Assistance Program services if possible. These services have been shown to soften the psychological impact of job loss.
When there’s a particular threat against an employee, employers have another tool they can use to protect their employees from violence. Under the Workplace Violence Safety Act, an employer who knows that one of its employees has suffered actual violence or there’s a “credible threat of violence” against the employee in the workplace can seek a temporary restraining order and an injunction on that employee’s behalf. CCP §527.8(a), (f).
The pressures of a down economy may be responsible for an increase in workplace violence. This is even more reason for employers to take steps to create a safe working environment, as well as to take threats seriously and seek injunctions when appropriate.
On workplace safety issues, including information on drafting a workplace violence policy, turn to CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, chap 10.
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