Dealing with a violent employee at work—what should an employer do?

March 10, 2016

Topics: Safety in the Workplace

If an employee is violent or threatening violence, what to do will depend on the nature of the violence or the threat.  If an employee is unarmed and simply enraged, a manager, presuming it is safe to do so, should call 911, building security and any other first responders that may be needed.  If an employee becomes violent and is armed with a gun, the first action of anyone in the vicinity should be to run and/or hide, and then call 911 when it is safe to do so.  Employers have obligations to protect the safety of their employees and those visiting its premises. During any incidence of violence or threatened violence, the employer should take what actions it can to ensure their safety by, for example, evacuating individuals as possible, and cooperate with law enforcement personnel.

Unfortunately, dealing with workplace violence has become more prevalent in society.  Preparation can be important.  Employees who know what to do during such incidents are more likely to protect themselves and others.  On-line videos regarding surviving an active shooter event can be viewed for FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other government-agency advice on what to do.  Employers can help protect their employees by, among other things, providing training on recognizing and responding to threats and violence, and securing the workplace by limited access and installing cameras, lighting and alarms.

Following any such incident, the employer, in conjunction with law enforcement personnel, should document the incident and take witness statements.  The employer should conduct an investigation into the incident, to determine safety measure that may need to be taken to protect its employees in the event of further incidents—however getting a security review prior to any such incident may also be prudent.

After the formerly violent employee is taken into police custody, he or she should be fired by the employer.  However, the details of how this is done will depend on the circumstances.

Employers should have a policy in place that states that the employer will have zero-tolerance for workplace violence, threats of violence or similar conduct, and that such acts are terminable offenses.  Employers should also have policies in place that allow employers to access lockers, desks, vehicles, computer usage and email, in an effort to recognize potentially violent behaviors and threats.