Violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has reignited ongoing conversations about mental health, gun control and workplace violence. On Nov. 6, 2012, a deadly shooting in Fresno, Cali, claimed the lives of three people when an employee opened fire on his co-workers before taking his own life. Two weeks prior, Foxnews.com reported that a gunman in Minneapolis opened fire inside of a sign-making business, killing five people, including himself. Such instances suggest that an evaluation of workplace issues and procedures may be in order by employers.
These growing concerns are relevant to in-house counsel, who often create and help manage workplace policy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “nearly one out of every five occupational fatalities is attributed to workplace violence.” While a recent article in the April issue of ACC Docket notes, “20 percent of all violent crimes in the United States are committed in the workplace.”
A 2011 report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, suggests the United States is not alone when it comes to dealing with violence in the workplace. According to the report, “third party violence and harassment affect from 5% to 20% of European workers.”
So what is an employer to do?
It is essential to remain diligent when it comes to prevention methods. ACC’s “Top Ten Tips for Handling Terminations” provides best practices for handling a termination — often a catalyst for workplace violence. Such tips span the course of an employment relationship, from measures taken prior to hiring to conversations with remaining employees following a termination. One noted recommendation is to “[e]nsure employment documents are clear.” To do so, authors suggest that employers initially craft the employment contract with a potential “parting of ways” in mind.
Workplace violence prevention training has also become commonplace. A recent 2010 presentation on preventing workplace violence offers information on risk factors, how to identify a threatening situation, as well as what to do if you find yourself in a threatening situation. As a prevention measure, the city of Houston has launched a video campaign entitled, “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” which provides survival tips for unforeseen violence in an office environment. In the four months since posting, the video has received over 5,000 YouTube views.
In the wake of recent tragedies around the globe, prevention measures are widespread. Through workshops on workplace bully detection, violence response guidelines and survival tips organizations are taking heed and strategizing plans to move forward.