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Preventing Violence in the Workplace

by Laura Littlecott, PHR

Preventing Violence in the Workplace by Laura Littlecott, PHR

In light of the recent tragic events in Newtown, Aurora, Portland and elsewhere, many employers and are compelled to re-evaluate their workplace violence prevention strategies. Incidents of such violence leave lasting scars on employees and organizations, and extract a painful personal and financial toll. What constitutes workplace violence? Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention: American National Standard defines it as “a spectrum of behaviors – including overt acts of violence, threats, and other conduct – that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others (such as customers, clients, and business associates) on-site or off-site, when related to the organization.” According to the SHRM Workplace Violence Survey conducted in 2012, over one-third of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence. While there is no 100% fool-proof way to prevent all workplace violence, there are measures organizations can take to protect their employees and mitigate risk.

First, employers can take several physical and technological measures to enhance security in the workplace. Such measures include but are not limited to: electronic security and surveillance systems, check-in requirements for visitors, employee IDs, regular security guard patrols, increased lighting and limiting public access to parts of the building. Further, an organization’s IT departments should have sound data security procedures in place to prevent unauthorized access to company data. Failing to provide adequate safety measures could expose an employer to liability should an injury or death occur that might have been prevented by such security.

Second, employers can implement several prevention strategies to help identify employees at risk for workplace violence. Hiring managers should be thoroughly trained in avoiding negligent hiring, and identifying early warning signs of violence and how to address those signs. Complete background checks should be conducted on all candidates. A clear disciplinary action plan should be in place for employees who have engaged in violent behaviors in the workplace. When a potentially violent employee must be terminated, employers should have a plan in place to ensure the employee leaves the premises in the manner that protects all employees in the workplace.

Third, organizations should develop a complete workplace violence prevention program that incorporates not only the above procedures, but other strategies as well. Actions such as periodic risk assessments (completed during a safety audit), drills, a complete investigation process for reported acts of violence, a regular communication plan, and assigning a safety officer or point person to each location or office whose responsibility is to receive any workplace violence reports or concerns. Beyond such visible measures, organizations must regularly stress to employees that they take their safety and security seriously. Also, with the high incidence of domestic violence in the workplace, employers should implement policies and procedures to protect employees who may be victims of such violence. Some states may even have laws addressing workplace domestic violence, and policies should be tailored in compliance with such laws.

Workplace violence is an unfortunate fact in today’s stressful culture. However, by combining physical security, prevention strategies, and effective programs, companies can improve the safety and well-being of their employees and create a culture of security and productivity.

Laura Littlecott, PHR is a Human Resources Management Consultant with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. ( If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Laura at