5 steps to prevent workplace violence

An armed gunman just entered the lobby of your workplace. He announces he is taking several employees as hostages. You recognize him as a disgruntled former employee who was fired last week. What’s the first thing you and your management team do? Does your company have a strategic plan in place for handling workplace violence? Are your employees equipped to identify potential threats?

Although workplace violence continues to occur at an alarming rate, many employers fail to address these potential threats in their safety training programs. Instead of taking a reactive, “what went wrong” approach, it’s critical employers take proactive measures to help minimize workplace violence and related legal risks in order to maintain a safe workplace for employees, customers, vendors and the general public.

Educate and train employees

Active Shooter Response Training is a comprehensive training program that demonstrates how employees should handle an active shooter situation. Just as workplaces train for evacuations due to fires and other natural disasters, employers should consider implementing active shooter training as part of their workplace safety programs.

Furthermore, it’s important that employers invite local law enforcement and authorities to review and familiarize themselves with the layout of the workplace should an emergency situation occur. Some large businesses even routinely give local police and fire departments a guided tour of their operations on an annual basis to ensure they have up-to-date information.

Develop an emergency action plan

For employers with more than 10 employees, federal law requires that an emergency action plan be developed. Although these are typically created for fires and other natural disasters, emergency action plans are critical for active shooter and other emergency situations.

At a minimum, an employer should have a written emergency action plan that is reviewed and updated by employees and management. It should include a physical or electronic copy of the facility site plans, a roster of employees on site and employee contact information. This information is necessary in order to provide authorities with a complete, accurate understanding of who and what may be encountered when responding to an incident of workplace violence.

Review and update employment policies

It’s critical that employers review and update their employment policies relating to professional conduct, social media and progressive discipline before an emergency situation occurs. Policies should be clear that unprofessional behavior, bullying, threats of any sort and violence are strictly prohibited and will not be tolerated.

In the event that an employer terminates an employee, there should be a process in place to monitor that employee from the time the termination is carried out up until he or she leaves the workplace to ensure the employee exits the premises without any incidents of violence.

Pay attention if an employee is served with legal process

Oftentimes, employees are served at work with legal process such as subpoenas, divorce papers and other legal documents that may invoke a strong emotional response. Management must make a diligent effort to monitor employees who receive such process to ensure any personal issues don’t lead to violence within the workplace. If in doubt, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.

In addition, if an employer discovers that an employee has sought a protective order, the employer should identify why and from whom protection is sought. Management and security should also be advised of anyone coming into the workplace who is the subject of a protective or restraining order. Again, law enforcement should be immediately contacted to intervene before a situation escalates to violence.

When in doubt, ask

Although the potential for workplace violence is often unforeseen, these situations do arise quickly and quick action is necessary. When in doubt, employers should discuss the situation with legal counsel to determine what their obligations are, as well as contact law enforcement. It’s far better to be safe than sorry by contacting law enforcement before an emergency situation develops.

At the end of the day, the employer is responsible for maintaining a safe workplace. Although this is a tremendous responsibility, the steps discussed can go a long way when maintaining a safe workplace for employees.

Scott Gedeon is of counsel at the Cleveland office of Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm. With an emphasis on trial practice, he regularly counsels clients on a broad range of worker and workplace safety issues, including OSHA compliance, on-the-job violence risk assessment and mitigation, accident and fatality prevention, and more.