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The EAP profession has seen a growing need to develop solutions for employers with regard to appropriate response to the problem of Workplace Violence–and with good reason. It is estimated that corporate America spends $4.2-6.4 billion a year in the aftermath of workplace violence situations, responding to the approximately 2 million violent incidents in the workplace annually.
However, it should be noted that workplace violence has significantly decreased where organizations have provided training and implemented policies to prevent violence and threats of violence. There were 518 confirmed homicides at work in 2010. This is a 50% decrease since the peak in 1994 when the toll was 1080 annually. US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Canada, over the past 5 years, 66% of organizations reported an increase in aggressive acts within their workplaces, with 356,000 incidents of violence occurring in the workplace each year.Currently, seven provinces in Canada have legislation or regulations in place to address workplace violence as it is estimated that the annual cost of Workplace Violence in Canada is now $7.6 billion.
Although no policy or practice can prevent all workplace violence events, here are some best practices that will minimize the likelihood of Violence in the Workplace.
Signs of a Troubled Work Environment
Employers should be on the lookout for any of the following signs suggesting potential problems with the work environment:
Chronic labor/management disputes
Extraordinary number of injury claims
Frequent or increased employee grievances or complaints, particularly of harassment
Understaffing or excessive demands for overtime
High worker stress
Layoffs and a corresponding increased workload for remaining employees
Signs of a Troubled EmployeeInitial concerns
Verbally abusive objectifying and dehumanizing language
Non-compliance with policies and procedures
Frequent complaints from customers
Instigating and spreading lies and rumors
Excessive use of profanity
Inappropriate and sexually explicit language woven into conversation
Angry outbursts; frequent signs of frustration
More Serious ConcernsMaking verbal threats
Conveying unwanted sexual attention or violent intentions by letter, voice mail, or email
Holding others responsible for the employee’s own unacceptable behavior
Arguing frequently and escalated intensity
Blatantly disregarding organizational policy and procedures
Setting traps for others with malicious intent
Stealing from the company or employees
Damaging company property
Fascination/obsession with weapons or violence in the media
Indications of severe stress
Suicidal verbalizations (“I can’t go on like this.”)
Evidence of domestic abuse
Hostile or erratic behavior
Change in personality or decrease in work performance
Social isolation – avoidance of others at the workplace
Declining poor hygiene
Inability to get along with peers; poor work relationships
Ways to Avoid Incidents of Workplace Violence
Unfortunately, even employers sensitive to potential violence-related problems in their workplace or with their employees are limited by a variety of legal issues in their ability to maintain a safe workplace. Potential liability under the law may increase an employer’s difficulty in securing the workplace but it also may increase an employer’s responsibility to keep workers safe while they are at work.
Legal consultation with the development and establishment of policies with regard to Workplace Violence is highly recommended.
The following elements should be included in any employer’s program to establish and maintain a safe working environment:
an anti-violence/anti-harassment policy with clear definitions communicated to all employees and all levels of management,
educational programs on these policies and procedures for reporting,
pre-employment drug screening and background check,
a substance abuse policy,
fair treatment of employees,
appropriate levels of security,
a threat assessment team
an industry/occupational risk assessment, and
aftermath training/post incident interventions.
Every EAP should have a relationship with a Threat of Violence vendor/partner company that has extensive experience and a proven track record in the consultation and handling of Threat of Violence situations that are out of scope for an EAP. For more information about Workplace Violence Prevention you are encouraged to speak with an EASNA Professional Practices Committee member.