How can workplace violence be prevented

how to handle workplace violence and workplace violence and harassment employee training
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Published Date:04-07-2017
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U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation WORKPLACE VIOLENCE ISSUES IN RESPONSE Critical Incident Response Group National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime FBI Academy, Quantico, VirginiaI. Introduction What is Workplace Violence? On August 20, 1986, a part-time letter carrier named Patrick H. Sherrill, facing possible dismissal after a troubled work history, walked into the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office, where he worked and shot 14 people to death before killing himself. Though the most deadly, the Edmond tragedy was not the first episode of its kind in this period. In just the previous three years, four postal employees were killed by pres- ent or former coworkers in separate shootings in Johnston, South Carolina; Anniston, Alabama; and Atlanta, Georgia. The shock of the Edmond killings raised public aware- ness to the kind of incident now most commonly associated with the phrase “work- place violence”—murder or other violent acts by a disturbed, aggrieved employee or ex-employee against coworkers or supervisors. An early appearance of the phrase itself in Nexis, a database of articles in many major U.S. newspapers, was in August 1989, in a Los Angeles Times account of yet another post office shooting. As a result of this seemingly new trend, mass murders in the workplace by unstable employees have become media-intensive events. In fact, the apparent rise in such cases may have been an impression created by this increased media attention. Still, the fre- quency of episodes following the Edmond post office killings was startling. In Southern California alone, one summary showed, over an eight-year span from mid-1989 to mid- 1997, there were 15 workplace homicide incidents, six with multiple victims, that killed 29 people. In subsequent years, major workplace crimes across the country included four state lottery executives killed by a Connecticut lottery accountant (March 1998); seven coworkers killed by a Xerox technician in Honolulu (November 1999); seven slain by a software engineer at the Edgewater Technology Company in Wakefield, Massachusetts (December 2000); four killed by a 66-year-old former forklift driver at the Navistar Plant in Chicago (February 2001); three killed by an insurance executive at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New York City (September 2002); three killed by a plant worker at a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City, Missouri (July 2, 2003); and six killed by a plant worker at a Lockheed-Martin aircraft plant in Meridi- an, Mississippi (July 8, 2003). (The Chicago, New York , Mississippi, and Connecticut shooters killed themselves. In the Honolulu and Massachusetts cases, the shooters went to trial. Both pleaded insanity but were convicted, and both received the same sentence, life in prison without parole.) Despite a number of highly publicized post office incidents, a Postal Service commission report- ed in 2000 that postal employees are actually less likely to be homicide victims than other work- ers. The phrase “going postal,” which the commission noted has become a pejorative shorthand phrase for employee violence, is a “myth,” the report said. (Source: Report of the United States Postal Service Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace, quoted in U.S. Postal Service Annual Report, 2000.) ”Armed and Angry,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1997. 11Workplace violence is now recognized as a specific category of violent crime that calls for distinct responses from employers, law enforcement, and the community. This recog- nition is relatively recent. Prior to the Edmond shootings, the few research and preven- tive efforts that existed were focused on particular issues—patient assaults on health care workers and the high robbery and murder risks facing taxi drivers and late-night convenience store clerks. However, contrary to popular opinion, sensational multiple homicides represent a very small number of workplace violence incidents. The majority of incidents that employ- ees/managers have to deal with on a daily basis are lesser cases of assaults, domestic vio- lence, stalking, threats, harassment (to include sexual harassment), and physical and/or emotional abuse that make no headlines. Many of these incidents, in fact, are not even reported to company officials, let alone to police. Data on the exact extent of workplace violence “are scattered and sketchy,” specialists acknowledged in a February 2001 report issued by the University of Iowa’s Injury Prevention Research Center. Drawing on responses to the National Crime Victimization Survey, a Justice Department report esti- mated that an average of 1.7 million “violent victimizations,” 95 percent of them simple or aggravated assaults, occurred in the workplace each year from 1993 through 1999. Estimates of the costs, from lost work time and wages, reduced productivity, medical costs, workers’ compensation payments, and legal and security expenses, are even less exact, but clearly run into many billions of dollars. Workplace Violence: A Report to the Nation. University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center. Iowa City, Iowa: February 2001; Violence in the Workplace, 1993-1999. Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: December 2001, NCJ 190076 12As the attention to the issue has grown, occupational safety specialists and other ana- lysts have broadly agreed that responding to workplace violence requires attention to more than just an actual physical attack. Homicide and other physical assaults are on a continuum that also include domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, bully- ing, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create anxiety, fear, and a climate of distrust in the workplace. All are part of the workplace violence problem. Prevention programs that do not consider harassment in all forms and threats are unlikely to be effective. While agreeing on that broader definition of the problem, specialists have also come to a consensus that workplace violence falls into four broad categories. They are: TYPE 1: Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime. TYPE 2: Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services. TYPE 3: Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee. TYPE 4: Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or domestic partner. Type 1, violence by criminals otherwise unconnected to the workplace accounts for the vast majority—nearly 80 percent—of workplace homicides. In these incidents, the motive is usually theft, and in a great many cases, the criminal is carrying a gun or other weapon, increasing the likelihood that the victim will be killed or seriously wounded. This type of violence falls heavily on particular occupational groups whose jobs make them vulnerable: taxi drivers (the job that carries by far the highest risk of being murdered), late-night retail or gas station clerks, and others who are on duty at night, who work in isolated locations or dangerous neighborhoods, and who carry or have access to cash. Preventive strategies for Type 1 include an emphasis on physical security measures, special employer policies, and employee training. In fact, it is suggested that one of the reasons for the decline in workplace homicides since the early 1990s is due to the security measures put in place by businesses that may be vulnerable to this type of activity. Because the outside criminal has no other contact with the workplace, the interper- sonal aspects of violence prevention that apply to the other three categories are nor- mally not relevant to Type 1 incidents. The response after a crime has occurred will involve conventional law enforcement procedures for investigating, finding and arrest- ing the suspect, and collecting evidence for prosecution. For that reason, even though Type 1 events represent a large share of workplace violence (homicides in particular) and should in no way be minimized, the rest of this paper will focus mainly on the remaining types. 13Type 2 cases typically involve assaults on an employee by a customer, patient, or some- one else receiving a service. In general, the violent acts occur as workers are performing their normal tasks. In some occupations, dealing with dangerous people is inherent in the job, as in the case of a police officer, correctional officer, security guard, or mental health worker. For other occupations, violent reactions by a customer or client are unpredictable, triggered by an argument, anger at the quality of service or denial of service, delays, or some other precipitating event. Employees experiencing the largest number of Type 2 assaults are those in healthcare occupations—nurses in particular, as well as doctors, nurses and aides who deal with psychiatric patients; members of emergency medical response teams; and hospital employees working in admissions, emergency rooms, and crisis or acute care units. Type 3 and Type 4 violence—incidents involving violence by past or present employees and acts committed by domestic abusers or arising from other personal relationships that follow an employee into the workplace—will be the types most extensively treated in this paper. Violence in these categories is no less or more dangerous or damaging than any other violent act. But when the violence comes from an employee or someone close to an employee, there is a much greater chance that some warning sign will have reached the employer in the form of observable behavior. That knowledge, along with the appropriate prevention programs, can at the very least mitigate the potential for violence or prevent it altogether. Whose Concern is It? Clearly, violence in the workplace affects society as a whole. The economic cost, difficult to measure with any precision, is certainly substantial. There are intangible costs too. 14Like all violent crime, workplace violence creates ripples that go beyond what is done to a particular victim. It damages trust, community, and the sense of security every worker has a right to feel while on the job. In that sense, everyone loses when a violent act takes place, and everyone has a stake in efforts to stop violence from happening. The success of that effort will depend on the concern and actions of a number of constituents: Employers have a legal and ethical obligation to promote a work environment free from threats and violence and, in addition, can face economic loss as the result of vio- lence in the form of lost work time, damaged employee morale and productivity, increased workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and possible lawsuits and liability costs. As more fully discussed in the sections below, employers’ important roles in violence prevention can include: • Adopting a workplace violence policy and prevention program and communicating the policy and program to employees. • Providing regular training in preventive measures for all new/current employees, supervisors, and managers. • Supporting, not punishing, victims of workplace or domestic violence. • Adopting and practicing fair and consistent disciplinary procedures. • Fostering a climate of trust and respect among workers and between employees and management. • When necessary, seeking advice and assistance from outside resources, including threat-assessment psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals, social service agencies, and law enforcement. Employees have the right to expect a work environment that promotes safety from vio- lence, threats, and harassment. They can actively contribute to preventive practices by doing the following: • Accept and adhere to an employer’s preventive policies and practices. • Become aware of and report violent or threatening behavior by coworkers or other warning signs. • Follow procedures established by the workplace violence prevention program, including those for reporting incidents. Law enforcement agencies, over the last several years, have been leading the way in how they and the rest of the criminal justice system respond to domestic and school vio- lence. Those changes have placed greater emphasis on prevention and responding to threats and minor incidents, rather than the traditional view that police become 15involved only after a crime has occurred, that serious effort and police resources should be reserved for serious offenses. This proactive approach, utilizing community policing concepts, can be applied to workplace situations as well. This approach can include: • Outreach to employers, especially to smaller employers that do not have the resources to maintain their own security staff. • Establishing contact and regular consultation with mental health and social service providers. • Setting up a system for assisting employers in background checks, workplace site reviews, evacuation plans, etc. • Assisting employers in developing prevention programs and assuring that threats or less serious incidents will be responded to. • Training officers in threat assessment and, if a department’s resources permit, establishing a specialized threat assessment unit. • Training officers in relevant laws (e.g. harassment and stalking ) and response procedures for workplace problems. Unions should regard workplace safety, including safety from violence, as an employee’s right, just as worthy of union defense as wages or any other contractual right. A respon- sible union will include these among its obligations to its members: • Support for employers’ violence prevention policies and practices. • Being a partner in designing and carrying out violence prevention programs. • Defending workers’ rights to due process, but also supporting appropriate discipli- nary actions that protect everyone’s safety (e.g. sanctions for bringing a weapon to the workplace). • Cooperating with and contributing to training efforts. Occupational safety and criminal justice agencies at the state and federal level can play an obvious and important role in meeting the workplace violence challenge. Their con- tributions can include efforts to: • Improve monitoring and refine methods of calculating the incidence and costs of workplace violence. • Continue developing and refining model policies and violence prevention plans and conduct public awareness campaigns to inform employers about preventive strategies. • Give special attention to developing strategies that can improve violence prevention in smaller companies and for lower-paid, lower-status workers. 16Medical, mental health, and social service communities also have a valuable role to play. Their contributions can include: • Refining and improving threat assessment methods and intervention strategies. • Outreach to employers, including smaller employers, to educate about risks and offer services for problem employees or in violence prevention planning. • Additional research in such areas as detecting warning signs, treatment of potentially dangerous people, workplace violence prevention training, incident monitoring and measurement, support services for victims, and helping employees after a traumatic event. Legislators, policymakers, and the legal community can review legal questions raised by efforts to prevent and mitigate threats and violence. Legislators, policymakers, and the legal community might consider whether adjustments to gun laws, laws governing priva- cy and defamation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, wrongful termination, and other legal areas have to be made to facilitate preventive efforts while still protecting individual rights. 17Where Do We Go from Here? II. Preventing Violence: Planning and Strategic Issues Planning Principles: As with most other risks, prevention of workplace violence begins with planning. Also, as with other risks, it is easier to persuade managers to focus on the problem after a vio- lent act has taken place than it is to get them to act before anything has happened. If the decision to plan in advance is more difficult to make, however, it is also more logi- cal. Any organization, large or small, will be far better able to spot potential dangers and defuse them before violence develops and will be able to manage a crisis better if one does occur, if its executives have considered the issue beforehand and have pre- pared policies, practices, and structures to deal with it. In forming an effective workplace violence strategy, important principles include: • There must be support from the top. If a company’s senior executives are not truly committed to a preventive program, it is unlikely to be effectively implemented. • There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Effective plans may share a number of features, but a good plan must be tailored to the needs, resources, and circumstances of a par- ticular employer and a particular work force. • A plan should be proactive, not reactive. • A plan should take into account the workplace culture: work atmosphere, relation- ships, traditional management styles, etc. If there are elements in that culture that appear to foster a toxic climate—tolerance of bullying or intimidation; lack of trust among workers, between workers and management; high levels of stress, frustration and anger; poor communication; inconsistent discipline; and erratic enforcement of company policies—these should be called to the attention of top executives for remedial action. • Planning for and responding to workplace violence calls for expertise from a number of perspectives. A workplace violence prevention plan will be most effective if it is based on a multidisciplinary team approach. • Managers should take an active role in communicating the workplace violence policy to employees. They must be alert to warning signs, the violence prevention plan and response, and must seek advice and assistance when there are indications of a problem. • Practice your plan No matter how thorough or well-conceived, preparation won’t do any good if an emergency happens and no one remembers or carries out what was planned. Training exercises must include senior executives who will be making deci- sions in a real incident. Exercises must be followed by careful, clear-eyed evaluation and changes to fix whatever weaknesses have been revealed. 19• Reevaluate, rethink, and revise. Policies and practices should not be set in concrete. Personnel, work environments, business conditions, and society all change and evolve. A prevention program must change and evolve with them. The components of a workplace violence prevention program can include: • A statement of the employer’s no threats and violence policy and complementary policies such as those regulating harassment and drug and alcohol use. • A physical security survey and assessment of premises. • Procedures for addressing threats and threatening behavior. • Designation and training of an incident response team. • Access to outside resources, such as threat assessment professionals. • Training of different management and employee groups. • Crisis response measures. • Consistent enforcement of behavioral standards, including effective disciplinary procedures. Written Workplace Violence Policy Statement Here an employer sets the standard for acceptable workplace behavior. The statement should affirm the company’s commitment to a safe workplace, employees’ obligation to behave appropriately on the job, and the employer’s commitment to take action on any employee’s complaint regarding harassing, threatening, and violent behavior. The state- ment should be in writing and distributed to employees at all levels. In defining acts that will not be tolerated, the statement should make clear that not just physical violence but threats, bullying, harassment, and weapons possession are against company policy and are prohibited. Preventive Practices Preventive measures can include preemployment screening, identifying problem situa- tions and risk factors, and security preparations: • Preemployment Screening. Identifying and screening out potentially violent people before hiring is an obvious means of preventing workplace violence. Preemployment screening practices must, however, be consistent with privacy protections and antidis- crimination laws. A thorough background check can be expensive and time-consuming. The depth of pre- employment scrutiny will vary according to the level and sensitivity of the job being 20filled, the policies and resources of the prospective employer, and possibly differing legal requirements in different states. However, as an applicant is examined, the follow- ing can raise red flags: • A history of drug or alcohol abuse. • Past conflicts (especially if violence was involved) with coworkers. • Past convictions for violent crimes. Other red flags can include a defensive, hostile attitude; a history of frequent job changes; and a tendency to blame others for problems. Identifying Problem Situations and Risk Factors of Current Employees Problem situations—circumstances that may heighten the risk of violence—can involve a particular event or employee, or the workplace as a whole. No “profile” or litmus test exists to indicate whether an employee might become vio- lent. Instead, it is important for employers and employees alike to remain alert to problematic behavior that, in combination, could point to possible violence. No one behavior in and of itself suggests a greater potential for violence, but all must be looked at in totality. Risk factors at times associated with potential violence include personality conflicts (between coworkers or between worker and supervisor); a mishandled termination or other disciplinary action; bringing weapons onto a work site; drug or alcohol use on the job; or a grudge over a real or imagined grievance. Risks can also stem from an employ- ee’s personal circumstances—breakup of a marriage or romantic relationship; other family conflicts; financial or legal problems; or emotional disturbance. Other problematic behavior also can include, but is not limited to: • Increasing belligerence • Ominous, specific threats • Hypersensitivity to criticism • Recent acquisition/fascination with weapons • Apparent obsession with a supervisor or coworker or employee grievance. • Preoccupation with violent themes • Interest in recently publicized violent events • Outbursts of anger 21• Extreme disorganization • Noticeable changes in behavior • Homicidal/suicidal comments or threats Though a suicide threat may not be heard as threatening to others, it is nonetheless a serious danger sign. Some extreme violent acts are in fact suicidal—wounding or killing someone else in the expectation of being killed, a phenomenon known in law enforce- ment as “suicide by cop.” In addition, many workplace shootings often end in suicide by the offender. While no definitive studies currently exist regarding workplace environmental factors that can contribute to violence, it is generally understood that the following factors can contribute to negativity and stress in the workplace, which in turn may precipitate prob- lematic behavior. Such factors include: • Understaffing that leads to job overload or compulsory overtime. • Frustrations arising from poorly defined job tasks and responsibilities. • Downsizing or reorganization. • Labor disputes and poor labor-management relations. • Poor management styles (for example, arbitrary or unexplained orders; over-monitor- ing; corrections or reprimands in front of other employees, inconsistent discipline). • Inadequate security or a poorly trained, poorly motivated security force. • A lack of employee counseling. • A high injury rate or frequent grievances may be clues to problem situations in a workplace. Security Survey and Measures: One important tool can be a questionnaire or survey for employees to get their ideas on the occurrence and potential for violent incidents and to identify or confirm the need for improved security measures. Surveys can be repeated at regular intervals, or when operations change or an incident of workplace violence has occurred, to help identify new or previously unnoticed risk factors. Responses can help identify jobs, locations, or work situations where the risk of violence appears highest. As well as being trained in how to respond to violent incidents, security personnel should be trained in techniques for handling threats or other confrontations without let- ting them escalate into violence. Security supervisors should have an up-to-date contact list for all employees, in case there is a need to advise workers of an emergency or dis- 22tribute other information. There should also be a list of outside emergency contacts: police, rescue, medical, social service, violence assessment and employee assistance pro- fessionals, etc. The security director should maintain regular liaison with local law enforcement agencies, familiarizing them with the company’s location and with evacua- tion and other emergency plans. The floor plan and physical layout of a workplace should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified to improve employees’ safety. Aspects to consider include: • Visibility • Alarm signals or emergency phones • Control of access • Arrangement of work space so employees cannot be trapped in a small enclosure • Adequate and clearly marked escape routes A plan for emergency evacuation should be designed and practiced. The evacuation plan should include not only procedures for getting workers out of a building, office, or plant, but some method for those evacuated to assemble or report in so that it can be determined who is safe and who may still be missing. Evacuation plans should include provisions for workers with disabilities—for example, a way to make sure warnings are received by employees who may be hearing-impaired and a system for safely evacuating anyone who uses a wheelchair. Addressing Threats and Threatening Behavior Many times, a violent act is preceded by a threat. The threat may have been explicit or veiled, spoken or unspoken, specific or vague, but it occurred. In other instances, behavior may be observed by others, which might suggest the potential for some type of violent act to occur. Yet in other cases, it may be the off-handed remark or com- ments made to people close to the individual, which may suggest problematic behavior. Dealing with threats and/or threatening behavior—detecting them, evaluating them, and finding a way to address them—may be the single most important key to prevent- ing violence. Any workplace violence strategy must include measures to detect, assess, and manage threats and behavior. Saying that is easier than doing it. Symposium participants agreed that it is much easier to deal with a physical assault or homicide than with a threat. Nor- mally there is no doubt that a homicide or assault has been committed; often it is harder to establish that a threat has been made. In addition, the effects of a threat are subjec- tive and subtle, usually there is no physical evidence. Some threats are not criminal and, therefore, not subject to law enforcement intervention and prosecution. Despite these difficulties, threat response is an essential component of any workplace violence plan. The first need, obviously, is to define the term. 23What Constitutes a Threat? Webster’s Dictionary defines a threat as “a statement or expression of intention to hurt, destroy, punish, etc., as in retaliation or intimidation.” That’s clear enough, as far as it goes, but it leaves open a question that legal authorities or employers have to answer in framing and carrying out a policy on threats: who determines when an intention to hurt has been expressed? A purely subjective determination—whatever makes someone feel threatened is a threat— is an uncertain guide for behavior, since different people can respond differ- ently to the same words or acts. Employees who are required to observe “no” threat rules have a right to a reasonably clear statement of what will be considered threaten- ing behavior. That does not mean that subjective factors can or should be completely excluded from the definition, however. Employees can and should be held responsible for a reasonable regard for the feelings and concerns of coworkers and others in the workplace, and employers properly have an obligation to make sure employees do not feel frightened or intimidated. For these reasons, a workplace violence prevention program addressing threats needs to include both a subjective and objective component. It must set reasonably explicit stan- dards of behavior so employees know how they are expected to act or not act; it must also make clear to employees that no one has a right to make anyone else feel threatened. The definition of a threat for workplace conduct standards need not be the same as the definition of a threat as a criminal offense. A sample definition could be “an inappropriate behavior, verbal or nonverbal communica- tion, or expression that would lead to the reasonable belief that an act has occurred or may occur which may lead to physical and/or psychological harm to the threatener, to others, or to property.” Alternative: “Any verbal or physical conduct that threatens property or per- sonal safety or that reasonably could be interpreted as an intent to cause harm.” Identifying and Reporting Threats and Threatening Behavior: The best plans for threat assessment and response will be useless if employers or those assigned to respond to workplace violence don’t know that a threat has been made. Detecting threats depends in large measure on the workplace culture. If employees are too afraid or too alienated from management to report violent or threatening behavior by coworkers, no violence prevention program will be effective. To encourage reporting, employers can create a climate in which safety is accepted as a common goal for work- ers and management and all employees—including management, feel free to report dis- turbing incidents or possible danger signs. Along with encouraging employees to report violence or threats, employers also have to inform them where to report and what to report. A designated office or person to whom complaints are directed, and perhaps a hotline number or suggestion box for employees who prefer to remain anonymous, can provide a concrete and clear venue for reporting. 24To the extent that employees feel comfortable in reporting incidents to their immediate supervisors, the information may come through the normal management channels. However, having additional reporting channels can facilitate reporting where an employee finds it difficult to report through a supervisor. Whatever reporting system is adopted, publicizing it on bulletin boards, employee newsletters, and notices distributed with paychecks, or other means, will help ensure that all workers know how to report any behavior they consider troubling. Just as important as knowing how to report incidents is knowing that reports will be heard and responded to. A feedback procedure through which employees will be noti- fied—subject to confidentiality rules—of how their reports were investigated and what actions were taken will provide assurance and helpful “closure” to employees who make a report. To further facilitate the identification of threats, employees, supervisors, and managers can receive training to help them detect out-of-bounds behavior or other warning signs. Training can also help educate workers and supervisors on how to respond to someone who seems troubled or potentially dangerous and how to report that behav- ior to managers. Training can also include a very clear statement to all employees on what to do if they see or become aware of a weapon (in almost all circumstances, leave the location and call for help). Any training program should be sensitive to cultural assumptions and stereotypes and emphasize focusing on an individual’s manner, con- duct, and behavior rather than ethnic or other group identity or a “profile” of a dan- gerous person. Threat Assessment: Threat assessment has two parts: an evaluation of the threat itself; that is, the assess- ment of the credibility and overall viability of an expression of an intent to do harm, and an evaluation of the threatener. Together, these evaluations can help lead to an informed judgment on whether someone who has made a threat is likely to carry it out—a determination that has been described as “differentiating when someone is mak- ing a threat versus posing a threat.” The assessment can also help the employer decide what will be an appropriate intervention. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT IN THE GREAT MAJORITY OF CASES, A THREAT WILL NOT LEAD TO A VIOLENT ACT. THE THREAT ITSELF, HOW- EVER, DAMAGES WORKPLACE SAFETY AND MUST BE RESPONDED TO. A good threat assessment will thoroughly analyze: • The exact nature and context of the threat and/or threatening behavior. • The identified target (general or specific). • The threatener’s apparent motivation. • The threatener’s ability to carry out the threat. 25• The threatener’s background, including work history, criminal record, mental health history, military history, and past behavior on the job. Clearly, there are characteristic signs to look for in evaluating a threat and a threatener, but an assessment must not turn into a mechanical process of checking off items on a list to see if someone fits a predetermined “profile.” Every case should be examined and evaluated on the basis of its particular nature and circumstances. Every employer and organization will have to develop their own structure and proce- dures for threat assessment and response, depending in large part on the resources available. Large companies may find the necessary expertise in their own security, med- ical, human resources, legal, and employee assistance departments. Smaller organiza- tions may have to seek outside help from law enforcement, mental health and social service agencies, and other professionals. Such contacts should be established before- hand and an up-to-date contact list maintained so company officials know whom to call when assistance is needed. It should be noted that, typically, threat assessments will be conducted by a psychologist or psychiatrist specifically trained to evaluate a potential risk of violence. Both legal concerns and practical limitations often will render it inadvisable to seek threat assess- ment evaluation from an employee assistance program, security, or mental health pro- fessionals who lack training in this area. Threat Management: The goal of threat assessment is to place a threat somewhere on a hierarchy of danger- ousness and, on that basis, determine an appropriate intervention. If a threat is imme- diate, specific, and critical (“I’ve got a gun in my car and I’m going to wait for that S.O.B. and blow him away the minute he steps on the parking lot”), the obvious response is to call the police right away. A threat that is veiled or less specific and does not appear to presage immediate violence may call for less urgent measures: referral for psychological evaluation and counseling, for example. Many threats will turn out to be harmless blowing off steam and require nothing more than a formal admonition to the employee that his or her language or conduct was not appropriate and violated company policy. A recurring problem in threat management is what to do when someone is evaluated as dangerous, but has not committed any serious crime. In those cases, managers will need legal and, often law enforcement advice. Workplace violence plans should advise man- agers where they can get guidance, on an emergency basis, if necessary. Managers should understand that a threat assessment in some cases should be complet- ed before disciplinary action is taken. Executives or senior supervisors may sometimes want to terminate an employee on-the-spot after a threat or other incident—in effect, kicking the problem out the door. Termination may indeed be appropriate, but doing so in the heat of the moment without any time for evaluation or preparation may be exact- ly the wrong thing to do, removing the potentially dangerous person from observation and possibly bringing on a violent act instead of preventing one. 26Threat Assessment and Incident Response Teams An employer’s workplace violence prevention program should designate the personnel who will be specifically responsible for overseeing the organization’s antiviolence policy, including threat assessment and crisis management. Teams should have the authority, training, and support needed to meet their responsibilities. The threat assessment and incident response teams will be responsible for responding to ALL reports of violence, threats, harassment, or other events or conduct that may frighten any employee. Often, team members will receive special training in risk evalua- tion, threat assessment, conflict resolution, and procedures to monitor, document, and develop a response to all cases brought to their attention. They also need to be aware of, and have contingency plans for, issues such as dealing with the news media in the event of a major incident and helping meet employees’ needs in the aftermath of a vio- lent death or other traumatic workplace event. It should be explained that, often, these teams will not conduct threat assessments themselves, but instead will seek the assistance of outside threat assessment profession- als to perform the function with the team’s collaboration. Teams often will benefit from consulting with law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, emergency response personnel, and other outside specialists or agencies that could become involved in a crisis. To be fully effective, these relationships should be established and maintained before an emergency occurs. The composition of assessment and response teams will reflect a multidisciplinary approach. Teams often include representatives from security, human resources, medical, and employee assistance in organizations large enough to have those departments. Other possible members are union representatives, where employees are covered by a union contract. While team members may belong to different departments, as a team, they should report to one senior manager, so that lines of communication and authority are clear and there will not be conflict or confusion in the midst of an emergency. The team’s composition, tasks, and powers should be clearly defined. Employers may want to hire outside experts to train and advise the assessment and incident response teams. Those teams, in turn, can conduct violence prevention and emergency response training for employees, supervisors, and executives. Teams should keep good written records of all incidents and interventions, monitor results, and evaluate the actions that were taken. Training Training in workplace violence prevention will vary according to different employee groups. Training should be provided to new/current employees, supervisors, and man- agers, be conducted on a regular basis, and cover a variety of topics, including: • The workplace violence prevention policy, including reporting requirements. 27• Risk factors and that can cause or contribute to threats and violence. • Early recognition of warning signs of problematic behavior. • Where appropriate, ways of preventing or defusing volatile situations or aggressive behavior. • Information on cultural diversity to develop sensitivity to racial and ethnic issues and differences. • A standard response action plan for violent situations, including availability of assis- tance, response to alarm systems, and communication procedures. • The location and operation of safety devices such as alarm systems, along with the required maintenance schedules and procedures. • Ways to protect oneself and coworkers, including use of a “buddy system.” • Policies and procedures for reporting and record-keeping. • Policies and procedures for obtaining medical care, counseling, workers’ compensa- tion, or legal assistance after a violent episode or injury. Evaluation An evaluation program should involve the following: • Establishing a uniform reporting system for incidents of harassment, bullying, threats and other inappropriate behavior and regular review of reports. • Measuring the frequency and severity of workplace violence in order to determine if prevention programs are having an effect. • Analyzing trends and rates in violence-related injuries, lost work time, etc. • Surveying employees before and after making job or work site changes or installing security measures or new systems to determine their effectiveness. • Keeping abreast of new strategies for dealing with workplace violence as they develop. Any changes in the program should be discussed at regular meetings of the safety com- mittee, union representatives, or other employee groups. This section is adapted from OSHA, Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers, 1998. 28Disciplinary Philosophy and Procedures Disciplining an employee for abusive, threatening, or violent behavior serves two pur- poses. For the abusive or violent employee, the disciplinary action should serve as an appropriate penalty for past conduct and a deterrent against future offenses. For the rest of the work force, it should serve to reaffirm the employer’s commitment to a workplace free from threats and violence and reinforce employees’ confidence that their safety is protected by strong but fair measures. To achieve those goals, penalties and the disciplinary process must be—and must be seen to be—proportionate, consistent, reasonable, and fair. Erratic or arbitrary disci- pline, favoritism, and a lack of respect for employees’ dignity and rights are likely to undermine, not support, an employer’s violence prevention efforts. Workers who per- ceive an employer’s practices as unfair or unreasonable will nurse grievances; and not report them with the expectation of a fair hearing and settlement. Grudges at unfair treatment will fester and may even erupt into further troublesome behavior. Fairness in discipline begins with fairly and clearly spelling out what the rules are. Poli- cies on workplace conduct should be written to clearly state the employer’s standards and expectations. Penalties should be proportionate to the offense. If there is a complaint or incident, the incident response team will conduct or ensure a thorough investigation of the facts and based on the results, will consider and determine appropriate disciplinary measures. The Zero Tolerance Question When it began appearing in the language three decades ago, the phrase “zero toler- ance” customarily referred to a standard, rather than a penalty. Zero tolerance on drugs meant that the standard of conduct would be no drug use. Zero tolerance on harmful substances in food or water supplies meant that no amount of a particular toxic chemi- cal or infectious agent would be considered safe. Over the last decade, zero tolerance has taken on a different meaning: the application of an automatic penalty for a designated offense. In that sense the policy has at times been criticized for overriding judgment and common sense, as when school adminis- trators acting under a zero tolerance drug or weapons policy expel a student for bringing a nail file to school or having a cold pill or a couple of aspirin tablets in a lunch box. With regard to workplace violence, employers should make clear that zero tolerance in the original sense of the phrase applies—that is, no threatening or violent behavior is acceptable and no violent incident will be ignored. Company violence prevention poli- cies should require action on all reports of violence, without exception. That does not mean, however, that a rigid, one-size-fits-all policy of automatic penalties is appropriate, effective or desirable. It may even be counterproductive, since employees may be more reluctant to report a fellow worker if he is subject to automatic termination regardless of the circumstances or seriousness of his offense. 29Whether to use the phrase “zero tolerance” in its written workplace violence policy or find a different expression is a decision each employer will have to make. Whatever phrase is used, it should be made clear that the intent is to set a standard of conduct, not a system of penalties. Instead of warning of “automatic termination,” discipline policies should declare that violent workplace behavior will lead to penalties “up to and includ- ing termination.” That leaves room for managers to consider circumstances and exercise judgment on each case. It also properly puts the responsibility on management to ensure that penalties are not imposed arbitrarily, but are consistent, proportionate, and fair. SIDEBAR 1: SAMPLE WRITTEN POLICY STATEMENT This organization does not tolerate workplace violence. We define workplace violence as actions or words that endanger or harm another employee or result in other employ- ees having a reasonable belief that they are in danger. Such actions include: • Verbal or physical harassment • Verbal or physical threats • Assaults or other violence • Any other behavior that causes others to feel unsafe (e.g. bullying, sexual harassment) Company policy requires an immediate response to all reports of violence. All threaten- ing incidents will be investigated and documented by the employee relations depart- ment. If appropriate, the company may provide counseling services or referrals for employees. The following disciplinary actions may also be taken: • Oral reprimand • Written reprimand • Suspension • Termination It’s the responsibility of all employees to report all threatening behavior to manage- ment immediately. The goal of this policy is to promote the safety and well-being of all people in our workplace. SIDEBAR 2: QUESTIONS TO ASK IN A THREAT ASSESSMENT As a behavioral consultant to law enforcement, the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), located at the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia, periodically receives requests to assess the risk for violence posed by an individual in a 30

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