(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!