While it is impossible to accurately predict all possible instances of workplace violence, by being proactive, employers can take measures to minimize the risk of such occurrences. A good starting point for all employers when attempting to minimize the risk of workplace violence is to conduct a hazard assessment, and then provide employees with the protective measures needed to eliminate or reduce exposure to potential hazards.

For instance, if employees are required to work outside at any time, and especially during the evening, ensure the property is well-lit and consider installing a surveillance system. These measures can alert employees to a potential source of danger or, at a minimum, capture an incident. Installing alarm systems and signage indicating the premises are under constant surveillance is also a deterrent.

Consider today’s climate

OSHA requires some employers to have a written Emergency Action Plan. In today’s climate, it is recommended that such plans include information on responses to workplace violence, including active shooter situations. Employers should also consider implementing safety drills in addition to fire drills.

It’s critical that employees are trained to understand their roles and responsibilities in emergencies. Most employers have (rightfully) implemented zero tolerance policies regarding workplace violence. Employees should be trained not only on these policies, but also on how to respond to potential emergencies, including information regarding evacuation routes and plans; they should be trained on the procedures for reporting suspicious behavior as well.

Many workplace violence episodes are related to non-work issues and may include family or marital conflicts, divorces and child custody disputes. Employers should watch for red flags such as a situation where an employee is served with legal process at work. If an employee reacts in a volatile manner, it might be beneficial to consider allowing administrative leave if a cooling-off period seems warranted.

Employer responsibilities

Employers may also want to consider requesting information from employees who seek protective orders. If an employee has requested a protective order against someone, ask for a photograph of that person. Provide the photo to on-site security, reception employees and management. If the individual arrives at the workplace for any reason, have the designated company representative approach the individual in a calm manner, isolate the individual in a designated area, and request that security respond to the situation.

It’s important to be mindful of the fact that once an employer asks employees to advise of requests for restraining orders or concerns about domestic violence, the employer may be assuming a duty to respond to this knowledge. A court recently found an employer liable because it was on notice of threats from an employee’s ex-boyfriend and offered to form ad hoc groups of employees to walk her to her car instead of using professional security. An incompetent or incomplete response to workplace violence concerns or to an active shooter may be used as evidence that an employer failed to meet its duty.

All too common

No perfect response to the recent increase in workplace violence is available, but employers should begin taking steps to avoid violent situations and minimize risk to employees. Rather than react to a violent event, act proactively to avoid these incidents altogether. Employers should implement a pre-mortem analysis of what could go wrong instead of waiting for a what-went-wrong review after the fact.

Red flags

According to ESI Group, warning signs for individuals who might be prone to violence include:

  • A chronic inability to get along with fellow employees.
  • Mood swings and anger control issues.
  • Expressions of paranoia or persecution. Being a “victim.”
  • A history of problems with past jobs and and/or personal relationships.
  • An inability to get beyond minor setbacks or disputes at work.
  • A fascination with guns, weapons, or violent events.
  • A sudden deterioration in work habits or personal grooming.
  • Signs of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation.
  • A major life problem, such as divorce or legal problems.

ESI Group is not affiliated with Fisher Phillips. ESI Group www.theeap.com provides employee and employer assistance, training, coaching and employee engagement programs. 800-535-4841 x523.

Suicide risk factors

In November, 2018, the CDC reported the construction industry had the highest rate of male suicide among American workers. The rate of suicide per 100,000 civilian non-institutionalized workers was 43.6 in 2012 (1,009 total workers) and 53.2 in 2015 (1,248 total workers). The suicide rate among all American workers aged 16 to 64 from 2000 to 2016 increased 34 percent from 12.9 per 100,000 workers to 17.3.

According to SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education https://save.org – the bulleted risk factors do not cause or predict a suicide, but are characteristics that make it more likely an individual will consider, attempt or die by suicide. SAVE advises you to call 911 if a crisis seems imminent. SAVE’s personal crisis hotline is 800-273-8255.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical or chronic illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide
  • Recent job or financial loss
  • Recent loss of relationship
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet)