Preparing for workplace safety has been top of mind for many employers. While in the past the focus had been on Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA) i.e., providing a work environment free from safety and health hazards that could cause physical harm, nowadays there is increased emphasis on workplace violence.

How do we define workplace violence? This definition will be organization-specific, but for the sake of this article, I will define it as deliberately causing physical injury to another person, such as shooting, hitting, and other forms of physical abuse, as well as threats of violence (including emails, texts, social media posts). This means it includes behavior that takes place on the employer’s premises and also outside the workplace if it affects working conditions.

To address this challenge, companies should first conduct a needs-assessment across its organization to ensure that it has the proper policies, practices, and procedures in place to increase awareness, recognition, and reporting of violence or potential acts of violence as well as the employer’s ability to respond. I have heard some police precincts will perform a free workplace assessment and provide recommendations accordingly. But some of the things they would look at is points of entry and egress. Does the door to your business always remain open, or is there a mechanism to “buzz” people in? Is there a place in the office where employees can gather in the event of an active shooter? What are some actions employees can take in the event of an active shooter, i.e., simply using a nearby door jam if handy. How will employees contact the authorities?

Obviously, a well-thought out plan is one action of many possible to prepare for a workplace-violence event, but there are still others that should be considered. What are the policies in place that could be helpful? Perhaps a visitor policy with a goal of safely securing the premises? A workplace violence prevention policy, a weapons policy (depending on Maryland state law) banning weapons from the workplace and imposing discipline for violations, and a domestic violence policy.

Another preventive measure is instituting pre-employment background checks. It is vital to check if job candidates may have had a reported history of engaging in violent or threatening behavior and/or criminal convictions. Performing a pre-employment background check also protects the employer from a potential negligent hiring lawsuit.

Employers should encourage all employees to immediately report any suspicious behavior. Just like the airport, the “If you see something, say something” rule applies here. Any observed or reported violence, harassment, or threats should be reported to security and/or authorities. Employees should be informed that sometimes even jokes, verbal or in written form (texts, Facebook postings) could be perceived as actual threats. Of course, anyone that reports suspicious activities should be protected by no-retaliation clauses. The idea is to create an environment where all employees feel comfortable to report things that look odd or wrong. It is most unfortunate we are living in a time where preparing for potential workplace violence events are no longer a rare exception. Almost weekly, in some city in America, we learn of these events. The best advice I can give is to complete the workplace assessment as soon as possible, and move quickly to take action where there are gaps found.

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Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.