Workplace Violence Happens! Are You Prepared?

Archive for the ‘Risk Management’ Category

Workplace Violence Happens! Are You Prepared?

Posted on: April 12th, 2015

Minor incidents of workplace violence occur daily in every type of business whether you know it or not or care to know about it. Workplaces experience varying levels of verbal abuse, name calling, harassment and intimidating behavior by employees on employees, non-employees and others. The concern is whether the workplace has policies and procedures in place to handle such incidents and reports.  When organizations fail to implement proactive workplace violence prevention policies and response plans or adopt changes in their approach to worker security or workplace security posture will ultimately invite other relative inhibitors.

When these incidents occur, they usually  go unreported. Whether reported or not, they affect employee morale, production, performance, attendance, labor and legal cost and even medical cost.

Surely you are aware that TODAY, violence can affect any workplace. No workplace setting or situation is immune. On February 16, , 2012 a Long Beach, CA federal immigration agent was shot and killed by a coworker at the workplace, after shooting and wounding his supervisor. On February 22, 2012 a New Britton, CT hospital maintenance employee shot and wounded two co-workers. On February 20, 2012,  Norcross, GA a family owned SPA erupted into gun violence leaving 5 dead at the Sunjung Beauty and Health Sauna.

A recent survey by Allied Barton Security Services entitled “Violence in the American Workplace” revealed that 52% of Americans working outside their home have “witnessed, heard about, or experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace.” The survey also linked the likelihood of workplace violence to low employee morale. Low morale is the outgrowth of perceived or real outcomes. Swift intervention can identify contributing factors and risk indicators.

Is there an organizational workplace violence prevention plan and violence response plan for when violence happens where you work? Does your Workplace Violence Prevention Policy include plans and procedures for reporting and handling minor incidents of harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, name calling, bumping and shoving that frequently escalates to physical altercations and ultimately threats of bodily harm? Are supervisors aware, connected? Are they listening and observing and taking corrective actions? Are supervisors trained in inspecting the employee’s work environment to make note of potential at risk situations requiring additional care and attention?

Is there a Workplace Violence Prevention Reporting System for employees to report incidents of workplace violence? Or, are you a victim of the myths of workplace violence that it won’t happen here or workplace violence is not preventable? Is your investment in workplace violence prevention based on the above myths?

Just having a written document is not enough. Is your organizations engaged in addressing reported incidents of workplace violence to avoid conflict and correct known hazards? Is the effort coordinated between Security and HR and other departments?

Are there procedures in place for the sharing of information to insure risk minimization efforts are effective? Are the results of assessments and investigations filed away in “a blackhole” without the benefit of sharing lessons learned or informing victims of the outcome?

Does your company offer Workplace Violence Prevention Training? How frequently? On a 1 -10 point  scale, how effective do you believe that training is? If you want to know how immaterial training really is, ask the employee six months later what he or she learned and has it made a difference in their outlook?

Does your organization include immediate protective measures? Things like movement to safe harbor rooms, movement to escape and evade the threat or your first encounter with police searching for the shooter? Your initial exposure to the police in an active shooter incident could be traumatic. Is the workplace violence response plan considered a part of your organization’s emergency preparedness posture? How is the threat of violence in the workplace communicated? How is information conveyed during an incident? How would you know the threat has been cleared. How is that communicated?

My experiences is in alignment with the Allied Barton survey. Low morale is a risk indicator that contributes to employee disputes, argumentative and confrontational employees, disruptive behavior and disgruntled relationships. These indicators become apparent during an incident assessment. Often, participants and witnesses disclose the cause of violence is a part of management’s failure to identify, address or correct on-going issues. Some examples of management’s contributory factors include favoritism by supervisors, failure to recognize the impact of workplace policies on organizational effectiveness, unfairness in the disposition of grievances and untimely resolution of employee conflicts.

The transition from the Disgruntled Employee to Hostile Intruder (Active Shooter) isn’t an apparition, it occurs over time right under your eyes. And, most likely you were surprised at the outcome. Don’t BE surprised! BE prepared. Proactive Workplace Violence Prevention is a workplace force multiplier.

Considering the severity of the risk, don’t you agree that employers should focus their energies on taking proactive measures to aggressively address risk factors, and warning signs. This effort must be a part of an ongoing process. Climate assessments should focus on factors that impact low morale to identify the root cause. Annual Workplace Violence Prevention Assessments should be designed to take advantage of employee concerns and the workplace’s capability to address the threat of the hostile intruder. Assumptions lead to the perception of insensitivity leading to additional assumptions that when left uncorrected fester and escalate into irreconcilable differences.

To mitigate the risk, employers should conduct annual assessments to evaluate their capability to respond to a hostile threat but also take aggressive intervention action before an incident becomes an unmanageable one. This is precisely why I offer “Tiered Segmented Training.” Supervisors and employees must become cognizant of responsibilities at each level. Remember, just having a zero-tolerance isn’t enough. Using the zero tolerance policy as a threat to disciplinary action is an irresponsible tactic when not incorporated as part of a larger workplace violence intervention strategy. Discipline without  corrective action is shortsighted.

Maintaining and enforcing tough anti-violence policies that places employees on notice that violent behavior will not be tolerated alone, doesn’t improve morale NOT without correcting the contributing factors or risk factors.

Employers should avoid the temptation of relying on termination as the solution to the problem. Improperly resolved issues are exacerbated during the terminations process. Organizations must strive to identify contributing factors, risk factors and root causes if they are to provide for a safe / non violent workplace. Intimate Partner/Domestic Violence should be integrated under the workplace violence prevention umbrella for maximized and effective communication and coordination.

Organizations that implement proactive workplace violence prevention programs tend to have credible reporting measures in place, have some form of access controls, employees are aware of their mutual responsibilities, training is relevant and appropriate, there’s accountable and responsible supervision manage the potentially hostile workplace. For greater value,  assign workplace violence prevention to a program manager.

Workplace Violence Prevention – Is a Risk Mitigation Practice That Won’t Hurt You in the Long Run

Posted on: March 22nd, 2015

Risk Management has to be a higher calling because those who are involved are truly blessed with insight and the patience of Job. I would imagine their mantra being a persistent one that’s based on saving an organization mandated impositions and wasteful costs associated with civil liability and negligent management. Yet failure to anticipate or plan continues to be the C-Suite’s greatest shortcoming when it comes to understanding that the operative word in workplace violence is PREVENTION. Often time employers are victims of the two greatest myths; Workplace Violence is not preventable and it won’t happen here. Well, let me help you see the other side of the coin.

A homicidal event being the driving motivator. My question is – when will they learn that on ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure or pay me now or pay someone later much more? Though FEAR should not be the motivation in considering investments in Workplace Violence Prevention it often is. The reality is that such investments typically occur on the incident side of the equation where the investment is much more expensive, less customizable and hastily delivered. Decisions to invest in workplace safety and security measures and practices should be predicated on the notion of practicality, researched best practices and making the solution relevant and appropriate to your workplace setting. Such investments should be considered in preparation for an event but certainly as part of proactive risk mitigation FIRST and not as a cost avoidance effort. Though researched best practices are recommended as a cost effective model in avoiding unnecessary costly re-inventions, the decision should not interfere with the need to address the unique aspects of your workplace specific environments. The decision to invest in workplace safety and security is one that should be weighed against your unique organizational risk assessment and not a cookie-cutter reactionary response in the aftermath or to a news event. We are now seeing an increase in workplace shooting incidents involving multiple victims by a lone shooter. FEAR as the motivating emotional contagion results in hasty decisions with adverse outcomes. My question is WHY make any move without a thoughtful security assessment and/or risk assessment?

Consider risk mitigation in helping you manage and reduce at risk situations by allowing you the flexibility now to apply appropriate measures to minimize risk before escalation and controlling response measures. Providing for a safe and secure workplace in preventing workplace violence should consider a prepared response to possible situations or events that can be addressed in situational exercises. While it is virtually impossible to defend against every scenario, training can help in preparing a response that’s directed at a particular problem, anticipates the need, change or improvement and not a reaction. I refrain from using REACTIONARY as it relates to emergency response situations, simply because employees will REACT out of fear and not out of training. I prefer training that helps employees see a RESPONSIVE approach they control under general situations. That’s why when we address risk mitigation as it relates to workplace violence prevention, the need for training should derive from a known possibility that it could happen and what are the Immediate Protective Measures to be taken. Or to avoid minimize risk even before they occur recognize existing hazards by conducting security assessments and/or risk assessments at least annually or as circumstances dictate. An example of risk mitigation is training in response to the disgruntled person with a gun in the workplace. The response should be a trained one rather than a haphazard reaction to danger and fear alone.

Proper training that focuses on reducing and managing risks can help organizations better prepare to respond to unexpected situations when they occur. Organizations should not be afraid of conducting annual or as frequently needed internal ” workplace violence prevention security vulnerability assessments” as part of a risk management process and they should make the training as realistic as possible. Use experts who specialize in workplace violence prevention and who can share analysis of recent and past events as lessons learned. Design training centered on multiple learning modalities such as scenarios and small group discussions.

Remember as we’ve all seen and hear in recent public events that those who engage in acts of violence reflect a microcosm of our societies and as quietly as it may be kept, generally emanate as a result of a workplace event, situation or circumstance. As such, these individuals their issues and concerns are our employees whose complaints fall on deaf ears. Investing in Workplace Violence Prevention is GOOD Risk Mitigation and is a litigiously sounder strategy to preventing, managing and reducing incidents than Cost Avoidance, which equates to being a penny wise and a pound foolish on the wrong side of the ledger. Don’t take my word; ask the Risk Management Professionals, they are more equipped than I.

Change-Management Can Have an Over-Reaching Impact on Workplace Violence Prevention

Posted on: March 8th, 2015

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. I have been a part of the workplace violence prevention effort in one form or fashion prior to the Edmonton, Oklahoma Tragedy of August 20, 1986 when Patrick Henry Sherrill, shot and killed 14 co-workers, wounded six, then shot himself inside the post office. But violence in the workplace was not alien to the Postal Service as Postal Inspectors dealt with armed robberies of letter carriers and post offices.

Workplace Violence continues to be a legitimate workplace security concern that may be ripe for a paradigm shift, changing traditional approaches in favor of more Robust, Agile and Proactive (RAP) strategies and tactics.

While terrorism still ranks high on the list of workplace security threats, workplace violence by its ominous name continues to weigh heavily as a critical factor impacting people security, morale, performance, production, efficiency, injury compensation and medical costs as well as the legal cost of defending serious injury and negligent homicide and training allegations. Workplace violence and workplace terrorism are concerns worth insuring such preparedness and training is relevant and competent. The December 2, 2015 San Bernardino County Shootings teaches us many lessons learned we must adapt to current workplace violence prevention and workplace security measures. “Free” training is relevant but only if one considers the source and the organizational value. 

As a tangible factor, personnel turbulence can be measured. In 2008 the consulting firm CPP conducted a study that revealed employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in the United States.  

The intangible cost from the daily non-violent workplace avenger and disgruntled employee before transitioning to violence are hard to measure until uncovered in the aftermath.  Credibility in reporting can expedite the reporting and decision process. Beyond the emotional and physical impact on the affected employees, significant impact on diminished performance and production are the outgrowth of victims suffering from low morale and lack of confidence in the employer’s capability to provide for a safe and secure workplace all affect the bottom-line.

This perception of a lack luster investment in people security effects witnesses and their families who are cognizant of the perceived questionable management commitment and distrust the process.

Recent events in the news continue to validate the reality that the threat of workplace violence is a genuine human resource security concern that can come from a disgruntled employee, estranged spouse or an intimate partner relationship.  Long gone is the correlation between having conducted a thorough background check as a way of identifying those with predisposed violence related and criminal tendencies. Employers have gotten better at screening these potential predators out. Oddly enough, we’re discovering that employees with non-criminal history are just as likely to commit an act of homicidal violence as the predisposed criminal.

Nevertheless, warning signs can help when the right personnel are trained in avoiding false positives. In understanding that our workplaces are a microcosm of our society and communities, multiple intervention strategies are required to effectively mount a proactive workplace violence prevention campaign in conjunction with warning signs and credible reporting.

Workplace violence prevention cannot be a reaction to an event as in the case of an active shooter or hostile intruder but, rather, an ongoing process and measured responses.

Robust, Agile and Proactive (RAP) strategies provide for aggressive intervention, accountable supervision, responsible alignment, internal reporting and audience specific, segmented training as critical components of an investment in workplace violence prevention through multiple intervention strategies.

Homicidal acts of violence by employees, spouses, domestic and intimate partners and/or criminals in the commission of violent crimes have been occurring frequently and without regard for the type workplace (healthcare or educational institution). We see in recent news reports that the disgruntled predator doesn’t discriminate.  

Violence can occur from disgruntled family members in business related disputes gone awry, students upset about grade scores and intimate relationships, angry individuals, and despondent patients and family members in healthcare centers and nursing homes.

We saw in a Columbus, Ohio incident,  back in February 14, 2012 that the weapon of choice can be a knife affecting the emergency alert, response and communication time between the events, reporting and the 911 Call.  In the Ohio incident, four people were stabbed emphasizing the importance that workplaces understand the response and prepare for threats appropriately. Calling the training “active shooter” emphasizes the importance of  training the workforce to the response in creating a proper mindset and not just to the type of weapon.

The disgruntled person threat can come at any moment from any source and with any weapon. February of 2012, we saw the rare case of the Immigration Agent who shot his manager and was shot and killed by another Agent, clearly validating the need for every workplace to have workplace unique and specific countermeasures in minimizing the potential of workplace violence as a function of their environments.

In other words, let’s change the way we’ve been implementing and managing workplace violence prevention by taking proactive measures that increases workforce readiness and employee trust and fidelity in the process. Change is needed in how employers manage their workplace violence prevention policies and plans. Who says that Human Resources can’t share the responsibility with Physical Security, leaving HR as the Program Manager and Security as the Incident Manager?

Making a paradigm shift in how workplaces have traditionally responded to reports and threats of workplace violence isn’t easy but, it can yield proactive value when integrated into a comprehensive violence prevention initiative. Dismiss the temptation to make assumptions in assessing at risk situations and individuals. We must come to grips with the reality that although workplaces are not immune from the threat of unprovoked homicidal violence, workplaces can reduce risk by increasing their response to workplace violence prevention by taking every report seriously in resolving at risk situations or conditions.

“To Properly address the threat from within, experts in the field of workplace security and workplace violence prevention can play a significant role in helping to shape and recommend strategies that help improve worker safety and security”.  

Managed intervention and prevention strategies can empower employees and the organization in creating an organizational response in taking effective steps to address troublesome individuals and at risk situations by preparing the workforce to take immediate protective measures to reduce their risks in responding before, during and following any reported threat of violence. Become change managers, by modifying current approaches to workplace violence prevention. Adopt appropriate robust, agile and proactive strategies that integrate and collaborate the effort through a coordinated response. No one says your approach has to be a template or restrictive, only defensible.

The following Workplace Violence Prevention solutions can be effective in any workplace setting:

– assessment of early warning signs through some form of behavior assessment model;

– commitment to conduct annual workplace specific assessments in evaluating and assessing known and discovering unknown hazards impacting safety and security;

– employ flexibility in evaluating current physical security, visitor management, access control measures and terminations in helping to identify gaps in security;

– conduct frequent work-site analysis and employee assessments to identify, correct/resolve immediate concerns;

– assign a senior manager as the workplace violence prevention program manager to provide oversight, continuity, coordination, collaboration and integration of effort;

– conduct and conclude hasty workplace investigations to identify root causes, contributing factors and at risk situations; and:

– consider retaining an external consultant to serve as your technical Advisor.

In the end the ultimate goal of the workplace violence prevention initiative is to create an empowered workforce capable of applying the right mix of proactive strategies and tactics designed to address their unique aspects of their workplaces. Working in concert or independently as part of the risk minimization effort.

“Don’t overlook your corporate counsels, and labor attorney recommendations. Risk and compliance managers offer perspectives from their points of view. When considered as part of a coordinated effort, they are all priceless and worth their weight in gold as key components of your proactive strategy”.

Remember that when you engage your legal team they can be very effective NOW and TOMORROW. They are anxious to be engaged now as part of the employer’s management commitment and investment in proactive workplace violence prevention measures.

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!