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You Can Make a Difference: How to Curb Workplace Violence Before It Erupts

Published on 9/12/2018 12:00:00 AM
Violence in the workplace can occur anywhere but there are steps to help keep your employees safe

As an employer or manager, you’re responsible for keeping workers safe. This includes preventing violence in the workplace. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 2 million American workers are victims of some sort of workplace violence each year.

Here are answers to common questions about this concerning matter:

What is workplace violence?

Workplace violence is hostility or the threat of hostility against employees. It can occur at or outside the workplace -- and can range from threats and verbal abuse to outright physical assault. Whatever form it takes, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees alike.

Who is vulnerable to workplace violence?

Although no workplace is completely safe, certain employees are at increased risk. This includes workers who:

  • Exchange money with the public
  • Transport passengers, goods or services
  • Work alone or in small groups
  • Work late at night or early in the morning
  • Work in high-crime areas

Violence can erupt in a variety of relationships, as well. The most obvious is between two colleagues, but violent incidents can also involve a customer, client, patient or student (where the violence is directed at caregivers, police officers, flight attendants or teachers, for example). And often, domestic violence can spill into the workplace, as well.

What can I do to protect employees?

It’s important to carefully inspect your workplace. Where appropriate, install video surveillance, lighting and alarm systems. Minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys and security guards.

Additionally, you can:

  • Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand: Employees should have only a minimal amount of cash in registers, especially at night. Post signs stating that workers have no access to safes and only have a small amount of money on hand.
  • Equip field staff with cellular phones: Require your staff to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day.
  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe: Introduce a “buddy system” or provide an escort in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
  • Provide violence prevention training: Educate employees on the early warning signs of hostility among coworkers, patients or customers — and what steps they can take to diffuse escalating situations, such as removing themselves from the scene and reporting any concerns to management immediately.
  • Offer an employee assistance program (EAP): This popular employee benefit provides confidential, professional counseling to help employees dealing with personal issues, such as stress, domestic conflicts and other situations that can lead to violence.

Can I ban guns on my company property?

It depends on your state. Although no federal law regulates weapons at work, several states have enacted some form of guns-at-work laws — and they vary greatly. Some states allow employers to totally ban weapons at work, including company parking lots. Others have passed laws that permit employees to store guns in their cars, and many states only allow such prohibitions if the proper notices are posted.

What’s the best way to address workplace violence issues?

You need to have formal policies in place for both workplace violence and weapons in the workplace. And they need to be clearly communicated to your employees. For tips on creating workplace violence policies, download our free tip sheet, Workplace Violence and Weapons: 10 Tips for Creating Effective and Legal Policies.​​

Ashley Kaplan, Esq.
Presented by: Ashley Kaplan, Esq.,
Senior Employment Law Attorney
A record number of state and local employment laws were passed in 2018, and many more are pending. With each new law that passes, employers must struggle to understand and comply with ever-increasing obligations.