Protecting Employees from Workplace Violence

The horror in Connecticut today reminds us of how real the danger of workplace violence is.  It was not that long ago that a former employee here in Seattle was convicted of killing two coworkers and wounding two others at a local shipyard.

Dennis Schwartz, himself in Connecticut, provides some valuable insights about workplace violence on his Connecticut Employment Law Blog and suggests steps employers can take to address the danger.   Among his suggestions are:

  • Provide training to employees. Recognizing the signs of potential workplace violence is crucial to any prevention campaign. Teach employees of the “warning signs” to look for and ensure that employees are sensitive to this area.
  • Encourage an “open door” policy. Much like New York Transit’s “If you see something, say something” slogan, the employer should encourage employees to report potential safety risks or unusual behavior.
  • Don’t be afraid to contact the police. Some employers take the view that they can handle a matter “internally”.  Resist the urge. Contact law enforcement when appropriate; they may already have information on the subject that would help with an existing case or have knowledge of a prior history.  Obviously, not all incidents rise to that level, but some do.
  • Take incidents seriously.  While some employers have instituted “zero tolerance” policies, a one-size-fits-all policy may not be appropriate. Employers should consider what type of approach they want to take to workplace violence incidents or incidents of lesser severity that still indicate a problem.  Employers should immediately respond to such incidents when they happen.

To his suggestions, I would add considering consultation with someone experienced in threat assessment.  For example, I have worked with James S. Cawood out of San Leandro, California a couple of times.  He did an excellent job of helping realistically assess the specific nature of the risks posed by employees based on our specific circumstances rather than on just a generalized fear.  With his help, our responses were appropriately tailored to match the nature of the actual risks we faced.