Violence in the Workplace
According to the US Department of Labor, Workplace Violence is defined as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the workplace. That includes but is not limited to threats, verbal abuse, physical assaults and homicides. Violence in the workplace can affect and involve employers, clients, customers and visitors. Contrary to popular belief, workplace violence does not apply only to employees within a business.
Homicide is the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the US, with shootings making up 10 percent of all work related deaths. Of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries documented in 2010, 506 of those were homicides. Additionally, homicide is the leading cause of death among women in the workplace.
Nearly two million workers report being victims of workplace violence every year in the US however; many more go unreported.
Workplace violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Research shows that those who exchange money with the public and those working with or around volatile, unstable people are at greater risk of becoming a victim of workplace violence. Other workers that are at a higher risk of being a victim are delivery drivers, health care professionals, public service workers, customer service representatives, Law Enforcement and those who work in an environment that serves alcohol. Additionally, working alone or in isolated areas pose a greater risk as well. The time of day, location and areas of higher crime rates can also increase ones chances of becoming a victim.
For businesses looking to implement a policy or update their current policies regarding Workplace Violence, there are many things that can be done. To start, have a zero tolerance policy and makes sure all employees are aware of it. Have them read the policy and sign that they understand it. With new employees, this should be done at the time of hire. It is recommended that continual training is implemented so that employees are very familiar with the policy. In addition, the policy should clearly state that any acts in contradiction to the policy will result in immediate termination and prosecution for appropriate offences. What is more important is that businesses follow through on the violations. If employees see that no action is being taken, they will think that nothing will happen and possibly continue their behavior and others may feel that it is ok as well.
Once an employee is terminated for any reason, it is difficult to determine whether they will return in an attempt to retaliate. It is very important to document anything said or any gesture that may lead one to believe that there could be a possibility of retaliation. In addition, it is always a good idea to keep employee files up to date, documenting anything unusual, whether it is conduct, gestures, or verbal.
Included in a zero tolerance policy should be procedures for employees who feel threatened or have experienced any behavior that violates the policy. Additionally, create a procedure in which employees can report violations to the management, whether they are a victim or if they have witnessed a violation of the policy, in which case it would be beneficial for them to have a way to report it anonymously.
Background checks are highly recommended, not only to reveal a criminal background, but to see if there is a pattern of violence or anything else that could invite potential violence or related conduct. Protecting employees is just as important as hiring the right employee. If the proper precautions are not taken, a business could be held liable if an unfortunate incident were to occur.
In addition to concerns over worker to worker violence, those same concerns should be considered for individuals outside the business. Whether it be a domestic or relationship issue involving an employee or a contractor, vendor, or delivery person, it is just as much of a concern. Within a zero tolerance policy, there should also be procedures for employees to report information that involves someone outside of the business that could be a potential problem. With that in mind, it is highly recommended that signs be posted advising others that there is a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence.
Businesses can protect themselves from disgruntled employees and also protect their employees from problems faced by others outside of the business. Under section 527.8 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, a business can get a restraining order for themselves or on behalf of an employee or multiple employees. This section is quite lengthy and detailed however; it is highly recommended that businesses and employees alike review this code section.
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