While workplace violence is more commonly associated with larger private-sector employers or public sector settings, an unfortunate fact is that companies of all sizes have at least some workplace violence risk.
For example, because people tend to work together more closely in a smaller business, the effects of bullying or threats of violence tend to resonate more loudly in small companies.
To help reduce this potential risk, it's a good idea for business owners and their insurance professionals to have conversations about potential risk factors, warning signs, and insurance policy options.
The most obvious sign of workplace violence is a physical assault, but the problem can also include verbal threats or intimidation, bullying, vandalism, and other undesirable acts.
Most workplace violence experts recommend a zero-tolerance policy that spells out explicitly, to all employees, that any form of violence or intimidation is unacceptable in your company. All workers should understand they face potential dismissal, suspension or other disciplinary action if they behave inappropriately toward customers, fellow employees or supervisors.
Similarly, experts recommend informing workers about the availability of employee assistance programs or counseling resources. Arranging counseling for troubled workers can be more effective than simply firing someone and hoping they never return to the workplace.
Sample workplace violence policies are available from a number of sources, including state and federal workplace safety regulators, and your insurance provider. Policy templates can be customized to meet your company’s needs, and should be reviewed by your attorney before being distributed to employees.
Careful applicant screening is also helpful in preventing workplace violence. Verifying applicants’ work history, qualifications and potential criminal background can help identify higher-risk candidates before they’re hired.
Business owners and managers should be trained to recognize the warning signals that often indicate an employee may be experiencing problems, or may be about to behave inappropriately.
Potential warning signs include:
- Threats against co-workers or supervisors
- Complaints about unfair treatment
- Changes in behavior, job performance or mood swings
- Outbursts such as swearing or slamming doors
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Undesired or obsessive romantic feelings toward a coworker
- Financial problems
- Poor performance reviews
In high-risk workplaces, like 24/7 convenience stores, security procedures such as reducing the amount of cash on hand are also beneficial to employee safety.
While even the most stringent policies and procedures may not prevent workplace violence, taking prudent steps to identify the risks reduces the odds of your company or employees being victimized by inappropriate behavior.