The OSHA General Duty Clause and Workplace Violence Prevention

Archive for the ‘Disgruntled Employee’ Category

The OSHA General Duty Clause and Workplace Violence Prevention

Posted on: February 4th, 2015

In this Blog Dr. Mike (Mike Atwater, Ph.D)  shares a perspective on the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause and workplace violence prevention. He and Felix collaborate in a small way to help keep the dialogue going in bridging the gap of awareness and responsibility.

“We recognize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and invoke the need to be proactive rather reactive” in containing all costs.

The effort put forth in investing in “prevention” can enhance the outcome and reduce the negative impact of poor planning.  While we are not suggesting that using other people’s data is representative of what can happen at your workplace (school, college, university or healthcare setting), it is our desire to create urgency in understanding the impact to your workplace and workforce your employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers. According to OSHA’s fact sheet,Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide. Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Furthermore, domestic violence is the number one cause for emergency room visits by women in the United States, causing more injuries to women than car accidents, muggings, and rapes. Like other forms of violence, domestic violence may spill over into the workplace in various ways. Of all employed battered women, 96 percent experience problems at work and 75 percent must use work time to deal with their situation because they cannot do so at home.

“As a licensed clinical psychologist practicing for over 30 years in Florida”, Dr. Mike has worked with numerous clients to help them recover from workplace violence and/or spillover domestic violence. These clients can suffer a variety of consequences and mental health issues in addition to any possible physical injuries, including:

  • Short- and long-term psychological trauma
  • Fear of returning to work
  • Changes in relationships with coworkers and family
  • Feelings of incompetence, guilt, powerlessness
  • Fear of criticism by supervisors or managers

Because each case will present with varying degrees of problems, Dr. Mike draws upon a multi-disciplinary counseling approach to reduce the acute psychological trauma and general stress levels. With all, a major goal is to help them return to meaningful work and for the employer to have a healthy worker as well. While Dr. Mike does not have expertise in the regulations and programs needed to provide for safe workplaces, Dr. Mike does know employers must be proactively responsible to educate staff about workplace violence and to positively influence the workplace and organizational cultural norms in order to reduce the possibility of incidents.

Making a Commitment to Preventing Workplace Violence

Posted on: September 28th, 2014


Making a Commitment to Preventing Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence Prevention continues to remain on the hot list of concerns for executives, security directors and those responsible for its prevention. A report commissioned by the Department of Justice suggest that there are about 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence in the United States each year.  Workplace assaults cause about 500,000 employees to lose 1,751.000 days of work annually. Employees who fall victim to workplace violence lose $55 million annually in wages. However workplace violence is not only costly to employees; it also adds up to a $4.2 billion annual expense for employers as well.

The other concerns are Physical Security, Business Continuity and Data and Proprietary Information Theft.  Making a commitment to preventing workplace violence is a good business-security decision that requires an understanding of the impact and organizational reach. While all areas are inseparably linked to the other, businesses do not take them into consideration in planning and defending the workplace against the potential threat posed by the violent prone offender but especially the non-violent disgruntled employee or person whose objective is retaliation without physical violence.

We know what the homicidal act of workplace violence can do to an organization’s workplace and workforce. Yet there is a tendency to dismiss employee complaints and reports or file them in a “black hole”.  I call this “black hole as the “purgatory period for justification and rationalization – festering”.  This is where other factors take form that drive the motivation for retaliation. Once a disgruntled employee or person transitions to retaliation they want to get even any way they can. If you are a control person or not paying attention the threat may escalate to physical violence. If you assume and fail to identify the threat posed by the disgruntled employee or person, they may gain unrestricted access. This knowledge is as critical and essential today as it was then in understanding the clear and present danger posed by violence and the non-violent disgruntled employee or person as well.

In the Business & Legal Report, September 21, 2005 edition, Paul Viollis, President of Risk Control Strategies made a presentation at the National Safety Council’s Congress & Expo on the topic of Workplace Violence.  He said, “With all the available data, no employer can claim credibly that it had no idea of the risk of workplace violence, including domestic violence.” Today the threat from the domestic violence and its workplace spillover is a reality.

He further said, “Employers and safety managers must mitigate the risk of violence by maintaining a “standard of care,” which includes having a comprehensive policy on workplace violence, training employees on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior at work and adhering to best practices of security and access control.”  Because of these concerns, my hair has turned gray  worrying about Mr. Viollis’ very points and the little to no attention it seems to receive in the small to midsize business community until something happens. It refuel my ambitions to share my experiences and expertise otherwise I am just keeping my information to my self. Therefore, in this Blog, I will offer suggestions on Developing Your Approach to Workplace Violence Prevention in reaching your workplace violence prevention goals and objectives.  Workplace Violence Prevention means the C-Suite and Boards of Directors  having insight and oversight in insuring program management and every knows exactly what they have to do at each level. The C-Suite and Boards of Directors should look at themselves as resources.

Why the Concern?

From a business perspective, violence is debilitating at minimum and disastrous at worst. Once the contributory factors are identified assertive action must be taken to resolve the issues and reduce the hazards. One needs to look at how the behavior adversely affects the business’s bottom line. A disruptive act of violence can literally put a business out of business. The proof of making a commitment to preventing workplace violence is in your “pudding, the metrics”.  The metrics, I consider in arriving at cost impact are based on lower productivity, reduced profitability, poor morale, reduced performance, increased absenteeism, higher sick leave costs and faster personnel turnover, increased employee grievances, investigative resources and time spent, increased compensation claims and legal fees. Of critical concern is the effect of business interruption and continuity related to the crime scene and the possibility of a civil court award for failing to provide a safe workplace. What about your image? Have you considered how your stakeholders will view the negative publicity?  Are you concerned or weighing the statistical impact before making the commitment to invest in your workplace violence prevention efforts? I would make no sense to wait for a disaster to happen when you can have your own model in place, NOW! All of these considerations have a positive image and impression on your workforce and your stakeholders.

Developing Your Approach to Workplace Violence Prevention.

When developing your workplace violence prevention program, certain steps in the suggested process are required if one is to validate the actions to be taken. Whatever effort undertaken must be work-site specific. Avoid the cookie-cutter in developing your plans. Make your effort unique to the workplace setting.

Identify a need for the workplace violence prevention policy.

Form a committee to collect all of the security related business requirements that affect the business.

Use the committee to create the written workplace violence prevention policy and plan to include components related to hiring, termination, rules for acceptable behavior, rules for progressive disciplinary action, training, violence response and the role of leaders in the process.

  • Publish the workplace violence prevention policy.
  • Conduct a Critical Vulnerability Risk Assessment of the business practices and requirements.
  • Conduct a site specific security assessment.
  • Seek feedback from employees by way of a self assessment survey.
  • Publish the observations, findings and recommendations from the security assessment, take corrective action and implement recommendations.
  • Train the workforce on workplace violence prevention, security awareness and accountability.
  • Create and training threat assessment and/or crisis management teams.
  • Test, improve and measure compliance and measure the program’s effectiveness.
  • Remember that compliance is not prevention but that a lack of consistent compliance leads to security gaps.

Workplace Violence Prevention is an ongoing process involving multiple intervention strategies of which leadership plays a significant  role in directing the efforts and supporting the policy.

Oh by the way, compliance and threat assessment are not prevention but they are resources.  Leaders must take proactive measures to lead with dignity and respect. Leaders should seek to understand the employee’s concerns and be sensitive to those employee reports of harassment or perception of disparity.  Don’t dismiss the employee report or complaint because it may appear petty. It may be petty to the leader but not to the victim of the verbal abuse, name calling, harassment, bullying, sexual innuendos or mistreatment. Perception leads to misunderstanding.

Recognizing the signs of impending violence is a mindset leaders must adopt in being able to take proactive engaging steps to head danger off at the pass.

Supervisors must have the appropriate attitude, be good listeners and communicators and be willing to engage employees as part of conflict resolution. The objective is to prevent the eventual act of physical violence  or identify the disgruntled non-violent employee or person inclined to get even by stealing intellectual property or sabotaging equipment and systems. So are you ready to take appropriate steps going forward or are you going to continue along unprepared?

You can invest in workplace violence prevention today with a minimal investment or in the aftermath of a homicidal act of violence with a major investment?  

The decision is yours!  Make workplace violence prevention management’s business-security responsibility and duty in providing for a safe and security workplace for all?

The Permissive Environment is the Suspect

Posted on: June 29th, 2014

(this post originally appeared on eZine Articles and updated since)

The real workplace daily threat is the permissive and participatory conduct most employees take for granted and eventually escalates into the more serious aggressive and assaultive behavior commonly referred to as employee on employee workplace violence starts with yelling screaming, innuendos, a bad word, or simple jokes taken out of context or used to inflame another.

Such behaviors are covered under OSHA’s (Occupational Safety Health Administration) definition of workplace violence under harassment include verbal abuse, name calling and intimidating conduct. Bullying is a form of harassment.  

Initiation of a proper and thorough investigation begins with an incident or threat assessment under the auspices of Human Resources. Banter between employees if left alone by supervisors becomes tense and often results in a more aggressive response. Bullying can lead to aggressive confrontations. The truth of the matter is that in most cases this banter is perceived as harmless shop talk or attributed to well-intended supervisors/managers. It is especially problematic when it involves a supervisor, manager or senior executive of an organization. Regardless the origin, all allegations require forthright assessment and intervention in avoiding false impressions and perceptions that lead to allegations of a permissive environment that pits the workforce against management.

Supervisors often believe that healthy shop talk builds camaraderie and does not detract from performance. However, such permissive behavior empowers the potential perpetrator who may feel he enjoys the favor and partiality of the supervisors. After all, he/she does his job well, pumps out the numbers and meets the “boss’s” demands.

Regardless of the relationship and work performance, definite and clear action should be taken initially and immediately to curtail the potential of an explosive situation from impacting the workplace. The spontaneous reaction by the victim although surprising could be sufficiently volatile to affect bystanders who may be aware and are equally infuriated. This is when an aggressive intervention strategy by the Human Resource Professionals can engender a spirit of accountability in representing management’s commitment to workplace violence prevention.

“Remembering that the business owner has a fiduciary responsibility and is ultimately responsible for the actions they fail to take in any situation places the decision in question and action imperative.”

The prevention of workplace violence requires a proactive response. Security is everyone’s responsibility but ultimately management’s duty. The exposure to violent behavior by an employee is yet another issue which will be presented in future articles. Suffice to say here that how employees are treated and perceives the treatment can have a negative impact on the organization’s integrity, credibility and believability in civil liability lawsuits.

In a permissive environment, the uninformed employee has no idea that emotions tied into simple acts of harassment are an explosive combination often leading to a spontaneous counter response by the victim. While the response is unfortunate in terms of who ultimately precipitated the incident, the victim who takes the action into his/her hands becomes the aggressor and must be held accountable. Human Resource can nullify the perception of unfairness by conducting a critical assessment of the circumstances in identifying root cause, blame and contributing factors. This is where the truth shall set the record straight.

Though  threat assessment is a reaction to an at risk situation, the Threat Assessment Team or a trained group of individuals would be the proper approach in assessing current reports and complaints as part of the prevention effort.

The conduct of the Threat Assessment Process would involve the total analysis of information and intelligence available about the participants, the incident and the environment in order to render a fair and impartial outcome. Being properly trained is key. Knowledge of how to conduct a fact-finding investigation is critical to the successful make a determination of the type of risk abate measures to take, disciplinary action or criminal prosecution it might bring. The process should be synchronized, collaborated, well-coordinated and reflective of the organization’s leadership team to ensure that the preliminary responsibility of conducting the fact-finding investigative process does not fall on the shoulder’s of the Security Director after the fact.

The major players of such an incident or threat assessment team might include at a minimum: the immediate supervisor, personnel & human resource managers, employee assistance (EAP), safety and security managers and legal to insure a thorough assessment (investigation) is conducted.

In assessing victim response to harassment the root cause of the spontaneous confrontation was the unabated name calling, verbal abuse and innuendos, created by a permissive and improperly supervised environment. Supervisors who fail to step in to correct this type of behavior can be held civilly liable and responsible for their failure to act early or appropriately to prevent escalation or confrontations. In cases of death or serious injury between employees or customers, wrongful death law suits are often filed in addition to criminal prosecution. Not knowing is no longer a legitimate excuse.

When supervisors fail to act appropriately, senior management has the burden of investigating the incident and determining fact, dealing with the issue of the aggressor and the contributory behavior of the instigator in deciding the appropriate disciplinary action (or if necessary, EAP referral, or referral  to local police for prosecution).

And, so while a Zero Tolerance Policy is necessary and highly recommended, it should not be an absolute standard in administering discipline until the “root cause” of the contributory behavior becomes clear through the assessment process.

When controlling or addressing the potential fruits of unwelcome behavior or to more appropriately prevent incidents dealing with workforce security and safetey issue, every situation should not be resolved in the same manner with the same administrative action, decision and our outcome in mind.  Any broad-brush approach to enforcing the Zero Tolerance Policy sours the innocent bystanders and prejudices the potential witnesses who may fear retaliation or retribution, factors which may further complicate the disciplinary process, arbitration and/or criminal

The permissive environment is the culprit!