Addressing Workplace Violence

Recent tragic events continue to illustrate that there is no employer immune from the potential of workplace violence, including the risk of active shooter events. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, one out of every six violent crimes occurs in the workplace. These crimes include assaults, robberies, and in extreme cases, fatalities or homicides.  While the potential might seem remote and the solution daunting, there are steps employers can and should take to ensure their workplace and their employees are protected.

To begin, employers should be mindful of the current work culture and work environment.  Are workplace conflicts and tensions dealt with appropriately? Are employees trained and encouraged to deal with issues in a forthright and productive manner? It is essential to ensure that there is a work environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their concerns, whether about co-workers, former employees, family members or acquaintances.  When employees feel free to surface concerns there is both opportunity to intercede, but also opportunity to build a workplace community that makes employees feel safe.

According to workplace violence experts, an employer can further prepare for a potential threat by taking the following steps:

  1. Conduct an Assessment

Employers should conduct a needs assessment across the organization to determine the strengths and/or weaknesses of its policies, procedures, practices and other resources aimed at preventing acts of violence. Included in the assessment is an examination of the employer’s physical security and designing a preventative plan that is consistent with the dynamics of the workplace and industry. This can include assessing entrances and exits to the worksite and determining whether a single access point, swipe-card access or other safety precautions are appropriate.

Outcomes of the needs assessment could be varied. For instance, a small business without a legal or security department of its own may decide that it should outsource certain functions such as hiring security for future involuntary separations. Employers may also choose to develop a relationship with local law enforcement agencies and have them “on call” in the event an employee or third party raises concerns. Alternatively, an employer may choose to simply create an office map that identifies where people sit or where they are likely to be working in the building to help the employer account for employees and assist law enforcement in the event an incident occurs.

  1. Educate the Workforce

Many workplace experts would advise awareness as a vital first line of defense because there are often warning signs of behavior before a violent incident occurs.  As a result, all employees, not only managers, should be trained about concerning behavior and what to do if they observe certain indicators. Whereas a potential violent attacker does not fit an absolute descriptive or demographic profile, certain behavior exhibited by a person can thwart a potential threat. Some common behavioral indicators that should cause concern include:

  • A dramatic decrease in productivity;
  • A pattern of appearing disheveled or unkempt;
  • Paranoid delusions, e.g., “Everyone is out to get me.”
  • History of despair or depression;
  • Comments alluding to suicide;
  • Major loss or change in life, e.g., divorce or death in family; and
  • Increased interest or discussion about violence or weapons.

Managers should be aware of how best to address an employee who exhibits these behaviors or an employee who surfaces a concern and know when to escalate it through the appropriate channels (e.g., HR or law enforcement).

  1. Conduct Safety Drills

When violent incidents do occur at the workplace, employers should have protocol and procedures for employees to follow beyond a handbook policy. Like other safety responses to fire or earthquake, employers should provide practical training and drills on how to react in a hostile situation. Employees are three times more likely to be confronted with a violent act than a fire, however, employees are often unaware of the steps to take to protect themselves, get information, or seek assistance.

Employers should clarify for employees that company resources like money and equipment aren’t important, particularly if there’s a robbery and what they need to do to protect themselves, not company property.

  1. Understand the Domestic Abuse Connection

One component of workplace violence prevention that employers might not consider is the connection between domestic abuse and violence at work. Studies suggest that 33% of women killed in the workplace are killed because of a domestic abuse. Employers should encourage employees to voluntarily bring a domestic abuse situation and/or restraining orders to the attention of HR. In doing so, HR may be able to take appropriate steps to ensure the physical security of the domestic violence victim as well as his or her co-workers.


Violence in the workplace is a complex and difficult issue. An employer’s best approach to minimizing the potential for violence includes maintaining a positive work culture, assessing current practices, educating the entire workforce of potentially violent behaviors, and developing strategies for dealing with violent incidents.

Brandi Gordon, SPHR – Senior HR Consultant

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals


Bay Area Human Resources Services

Bad Idea to Retaliate Against HR Compliance Experts

A $1.5 million settlement was recently reached by The American Dental Association (Association) based on charges that it fired two employees in retaliation for raising issues about the Association’s violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Following the receipt of complaints of potential violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, Chief Legal Counsel, Tamara Kempf, and the Association’s Director of Human Resources elevated these complaints. Both were terminated.


Subsequently, the EEOC filed suit against the Association for unlawful retaliation against the two executives.  The EEOC steadfastly takes the position that human resources professionals (and in-house counsel or any executives) who advise employers to follow federal anti-discrimination laws are engaged in protected activities when they do so.  Accordingly, any adverse employment action, such as termination, based on exercising protected activities is viewed as unlawful reprisal.

The most recent data collected by the EEOC (2015) indicates that the most common charge filed by workers was for retaliation.  According to LawRoom, the issue of retaliation is so common that the EEOC issued retaliation enforcement guidance in 2016.

Without anti-retaliation sanctions, the EEOC (and other government agencies) could rarely be effective.  These agencies often must rely on the testimony of employees. All the anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training would be worthless if employers could simply terminate those who raised complaints, particularly HR professionals and lawyers.

Julianne Bowman, Director of the EEOC’s Chicago District office, stated that this settlement demonstrates the critical role that human resources professionals and legal staff play in ensuring that corporations comply with the nation’s equal employment opportunity laws.

In order to avoid liability, legal experts recommend that organizations establish a policy providing a direct avenue to the Board of Directors to protect whistleblowers.

Paul Finkle, CMC, SPHR – Executive Vice President

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals

Bay Area Human Resources Services