Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Every year this country sees almost two million incidents of workplace violence. Federal data reveals that over a 13-year period, almost 10,000 murders occurred in the workplace. These numbers are startling, particularly when put in the context of the recent horrific events in San Bernardino, Calif.
While last month’s tragic shootings will be investigated for some time, there already appears to be a strong workplace connection. One of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, was a five-year employee of the San Bernardino County health department, which was holding the holiday party where these events occurred. Just like the recent high-profile tragedy involving a newscaster in Roanoke, Va., this incident exemplifies how an individual’s employment can sometimes be linked to unthinkable acts of violence.
These tragic events often lead to heated public discussion over gun laws and weapon accessibility. While dialogue over gun control dominates public debate, it only addresses part of the question. An often forgotten facet of this type of violence is the workplace component that is frequently involved. The incidents in Virginia – and now California – emphasize the importance of this workplace connection.
Few things in our lives go more to the core of our identity than our jobs. When people are unsatisfied in the workplace, or feel threatened in their employment security, they may act out in aggressive ways. This is why employers must be more vigilant today than ever before. We need only to look at the “Five C’s” that span the entire period of employment for answers in preventing workplace violence:
Character Checks. Background checks are perhaps the most important opportunity employers will have to prevent workplace violence. Employers should carefully investigate the background of any prospective employee for potential aggressive characteristics. This is particularly important where these workers will be put in sensitive situations or in the homes of customers.
Counseling. Employers must make mental health counseling available to all workers when needed. Such employee assistance programs are critical to helping workers get through difficult emotional times. This type of counseling must be kept confidential to encourage workers to avail themselves of this avenue of assistance.
Communication. Employers must create an environment which promotes an open dialogue of how to respond to active shooters or other violent individuals. Similarly, employers should establish appropriate complaint mechanisms to allow workers to notify management of potential workplace issues.
Cautious Cutbacks. When the need to terminate a worker arises, employers must be particularly cautious in conveying the separation. Far too frequently employers are cavalier about the process, and fail to even acknowledge or recognize the devastating effect a termination can have on an individual’s life and family.
Community Involvement. An employer cannot operate in isolation and must become part of the local community. There are many times where an employer will have critical information concerning a worker’s violent propensities, but fail to share this with law enforcement personnel.
These straightforward reminders help create an important framework for employers to eradicate workplace violence, though the framework is obviously not exhaustive. The most important lesson here is that employers must be engaged in all aspects of an individual’s working life – assuring that the potential for violence is minimized before, during and after employment.
Workplace violence cannot be completely eliminated. And employers must often balance the privacy rights of individuals battling mental or other health-related problems with the potential risk of workplace danger. Last month’s tragic events serve as an important reminder that employers must try to do more to help prevent this type of horrific violence.
Please feel free to share any additional thoughts on what employers can do to help prevent workplace violence in the comments below.
-- Joe Seiner