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Workplace Violence Strikes Again

Tragedy struck an Oklahoma workplace when a recently-fired employee from a food distribution center entered the center and stabbed a co-worker at random, severing her head, and then stabbed another co-worker.  Tragic stories like this are no longer a surprise.  Although violence is often unexpected, there are steps employers can take to minimize the risk of violence in the workplace:

  1. Assume workplace violence will happen. You never can be sure when an employee will explode due to pressures of which you are totally unaware.
  2. Take precautions when discharging employees:
    1. Have a second manager in the room.
    2. Ensure other people are around in case the meeting turns dangerous.
    3. Sit nearest to the door, in case you are threatened and have to run.
    4. If threatened, say whatever you need to say to satisfy the employee. Remember, promises made under threat of violence are not enforceable.
  3. Create a positive atmosphere where employees feel comfortable talking to management about issues and a culture that values discussing and resolving issues.
  4. Train supervisors on how to recognize the warning signs of workplace violence especially during discipline or discharge.
  5. Have a policy in place addressing workplace violence which includes a procedure by which employees can speak with management about such issues. Consider having a designated person who handles any complaints, comments, or suggestions on this topic.  Consider implementing an Employee Assistance Program to assist employees under such strains.
  6. Review basic safety and security policies and procedures with employees. Employees should understand what they should do in case of various emergencies including workplace violence.
  7. Create a phone tree system to ensure your entire population is made aware of such incidents. Senior management needs to be in charge to ensure the messaging is effective and legal.  Audit your workplace to determine if there are additional safety measures that may be needed such as locking exterior doors or installing safety equipment such as cameras, panic buttons, or better outside lighting.  Remember, if you have ongoing safety issues that are not corrected, you may be liable if an employee is harmed.

Employers should ensure the workplace is a safe place because it is the right thing to do, it shows employee welfare is important to management, and the failure to take these steps can destroy your business.

Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on all workplace and employment law issues.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.