Published Articles >>

Programs / Speaking
    Engagements >>

Avoiding Workplace Violence: Ten Practical Steps for In-House Counsel

Articles Published in Maricopa County Bar Association Corporate Counselor, 2002
By Dick Fincher

The fear of workplace violence has become a major concern of small and large employers. Recent incidents and front-page stories exacerbate the fear. So what is an employer to do? First, recognize that only 10% of violence in the workplace involves disgruntled employees. In actual fact, 90% of workplace violence is perpetrated by criminals (robbers or burglars), disturbed spouses, or irate customers. From either perspective, prudence is warranted.

As in-house counsel, here are ten practical steps to assist your planning process. The steps fall into three themes: workplace culture, security practices, and supervisory capability.

Security Practices

Step One: Control access to buildings through the use of receptionists, guards, cameras, pass cards, and common entry routes. The vast majority of perpetrators walk in the front door. Some control of access is a threshold requirement.

Step Two: Conduct an annual "threat assessment process" led by a joint Human Resource/Security/In-House counsel team. This plan will examine underlying causes of violence, evaluate entry issues, and frame worst-case scenarios. If your business is too small to have a dedicated security function, consider a security consultant.

Step Three: Provide temporary security measures on an "as-needed basis" to targeted employees, managers or functions. Use either proprietary guards or outsourced services. Much workplace violence can be anticipated. When risk is identified, act prudently. This includes an escort to parking, paid time off, and worksite transfers. Become familiar with the use of judicial restraining orders. In the past year, Arizona has passed legislation making it easier to obtain a restraining order.

Step Four: Consider pre-employment screening of candidates. Pre-screening can identify potential risks and head off serious employee problems. While it has never been proven if some employees are pre-disposed to violence, reference checks can portray a story. Candidates with a history of workplace violence are prone to repeat that behavior. Don't forget the independent contractors and temporary employees who roam your halls. They must also be factored into your risk equation.

Workplace Culture and Conflict Resolution Systems

Step Five: Define "Workplace Dignity" as a core value of your business, and conduct yourself consistent with treating employees as adults and with respect. This corporate value may alter how you communicate to employees, how managers treat their employees, and how conflict is resolved. A culture that allows managers to ridicule or scream at employees is dysfunctional, as is a culture that allows peers to mob or taunt at a co-worker. Always provide some outplacement assistance to employees during layoffs.

Step Six: As in-house counsel, implement a "Workplace Dispute Resolution System" across your business, which promotes the constructive channeling of day-to-day conflict among individuals and teams. Most "open-door" or grievance procedures have little credibility by employees. In the past ten years, such conflict resolution systems have been embraced as a valued enabler of creativity and productivity. Recognizing that employees in conflict have different styles, these workplace systems provide multiple access to a problem-solving process which includes mediation and perhaps employment arbitration. Violence occurs when people have disputes that they fail to resolve.

Step Seven: Communicate a clear and explicit policy against workplace behaviors including taunts, threats, bullying, stalking, or outright harassment and fighting. An employer should articulate clear expectations as to what behaviors are not to be tolerated. Employees should be informed to notify managers if they believe they have witnessed behavior that may be a symptom of potential violence. Weapons should never be allowed on-site, even in the parking lots.

Supervisory Capability

Step Eight: Train supervisors on how to identify warning signs of resentment/victimization. Employees most likely to commit pre-mediated violence are those who have lost their jobs, been demoted, or generally been humiliated. Assess each adverse workplace event (such as reductions/ terminations/demotions) for its risk and prepare prudently. Identify employees with recent intimidating behavior, sudden anger, or a distorted sense of being picked on by someone.

Step Nine: Engage a qualified Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) as a resource to employees who either self-select into the counseling or are referred by managers. Anger management should be a standard program. Research on causes of workplace violence includes disputes over job performance, marital conflict, and work related stress. An EAP can often help.

Step Ten: Train and reward managers to be mediators instead of judges. Numerous employers have embraced mediation as their principle problem-solving model in the workplace. Mediation of disputes brings out underlying interests in a supportive and creative environment, and is extensively used to settle litigation in the courts. Training on supervisory mediation skills is available from numerous sources.

Summary: In-house counsel can play a major role in reducing the threat of workplace violence. Research on such violence emphasizes that managers must address potential issues in their early stages, and take a unified approach with employees, unions, counseling services, and local police. The prevention of workplace violence is not only a responsibility but also a good management practice.

Dick Fincher is a national mediator/arbitrator of workplace litigation. He was a senior executive of law and human resources for several Fortune 50 companies, including Honeywell International and Baxter Healthcare Corporation. He is the Managing Partner of Workplace Conflict Resolutions, an ADR consulting firm in Phoenix. He can be reached at 602-953-5322 or rdf@workplaceresolutions.com



Phone: (480) 991-9479
Workplace Resolutions LLC is not a law firm.
Copyright © Workplace Resolutions, LLC. 2018 All Rights Reserved