Danger: Workplace Ahead

In the wake of recent events, particularly the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, employers and workers alike are giving more thought to workplace violence. Unthinkable and almost unprecedented, an assault by those with no connection to the workplace is rare. However, approximately two million people throughout the U.S. are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace, and the Department of Justice has found violence to be a leading cause of fatal injuries at work, with about 1,000 workplace homicides each year.

Workplace violence, defined as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site” is on the rise. Among co-workers it presents itself in many forms including:

  • concealing or using a weapon;
  • physical assault upon oneself or another person;
  • property damage;
  • intimidation;
  • harassment or stalking,
  • physical aggression (shaking fists, kicking, pounding on desks, punching a wall, angrily jumping up and down, screaming at others);
  • verbal abuse including profane and vulgar language; and
  • threats (direct or indirect), whether made in person or through letters, phone calls, or electronic mail.

Additionally, workplace violence is increasingly domestic in nature, spilling over from the home into places of business where partners are predictably accessible. In this form, it affects both domestic partners and coworkers. Lastly, employees that interact more closely with the public are more at risk. Each year, workplace violence costs businesses millions of dollars through loss of productivity, diversion of management resources, increased absences, and increased security costs.

It is the role of Human Resources to create and maintain an effective and clearly communicated Workplace Violence Program that assists employees in prevention strategies, fosters a safe and secure workplace environment, assists employees in crisis, and provides a course of action in response to workplace violence. Components of a more comprehensive Workplace Violence Program should include early recognition of warning signs and early intervention, extensive training and education of all workers, and (ultimately) clear guidelines on what to do when an incident occurs. It’s something we don’t want to think about, but can scarcely afford not to.