Avoiding Workplace Violence

June 10, 2016

Topics: Safety in the Workplace

Too often we hear about disgruntled employees “going postal” – getting a gun and shooting up their workplace for one reason or another.  Is this something that could have been prevented?  Is there something the employer could have done?

This is usually a tragic situation.  Fingers get pointed and there is plenty of blame to go around.  Of course employers have obligations to keep their employees safe from all reasonably foreseeable harms.  But is workplace violence (especially gun violence) necessarily foreseeable?  Often, it is not.

That said, there are a few things that all employers can do to try to create a workplace that at least does not foster workplace violence:

  • Create avenues for communication. Often disgruntled employees became that way because they felt that they were not heard.  Create not only complaint mechanisms and procedures, but make clear that employees have both alternative avenues for complaints, and then additional people to speak with if they feel their complaint was not handled properly.
  • Give employee communication the respect and dignity it deserves. Treat employee complaints and other communication seriously.    Express concern and do not dismiss things out of hand as childish, stupid, or unimportant.  Clearly, it is important to the employee raising it. This does not mean that a lot of time needs to be spent on useless communication –and employees who complain about everything need to be handled so that their attention is focused back on their own jobs.  But give the communication sufficient attention so that the complaining employee does not feel like he or she was given the brush off.
  • Investigate. If the complaint raises issues related to harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or other unlawful activity in the workplace – conduct a proper investigation.  Look into the situation and do not ignore it.
  • Do not tolerate bullying or disrespect. Create a workplace where everyone is treated with courtesy and respect.  Do not allow employees or managers to harass, bully, pester, annoy or otherwise treat their fellow employees in a non-professional manner.  Require people to use civil voices, resolve differences by talking them out, and allow everyone to get in their say.
  • Have a Workplace Violence policy in place which prohibits violence or threats of violence, and requires reporting of either. Discipline and otherwise address individuals who violate the policy not just by dealing with the violent or threatening action, but by addressing the underlying reason for that reaction--to the extent possible.

These are only a start—but they can help to avoid a tragic occurrence in your workplace.