How to Prevent Workplace Violence (Part 1 of 2)
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How to Prevent Workplace Violence (Part 1 of 2)

You probably don’t need us to tell you that here at HR Unlimited, we take Affirmative Action and workplace diversity seriously. We strive to provide the federal contractor community with resources to help you achieve those goals. We have long believed that Affirmative Action, while not foolproof, can be an effective tool in achieving diversity in the workplace—and a diverse workplace makes good business sense.  If the United States is serious about promoting cultural and workplace diversity and about ensuring liberty, then no employer – in particular no federal contractor– can afford to ignore the threat of workplace violence. Recent events only serve to highlight this point.

Few of us can truthfully say that we have not wondered what can be done to stem the barrage of violence ranging from verbal abuse to threats to bigotry and assaults to mass shootings that we hear about in the news with increasing frequency. Of course, there is no one solution that will guarantee an end to all violence, especially in a free society like ours. There are however, some places where we can start.

Believe it or not, your Affirmative Action Program, along with Human Resource professionals and compliance officers are probably your best starting point. Typically, the HR Department, which implements your Affirmative Action and EEO policies, is in a unique position to take the lead. How and why is that so? Where is most often the first place an employee turns when s/he is experiencing problems with managers and co-workers? To whom might s/he turn when s/he sustains a work-related injury or suspect another employee of misconduct? Suppose an employee is feeling overworked, has questions about benefits or any number of issues that are not directly related to his or her job functions? The answer to these and so many similar questions is Human Resources. Therefore, the Human Resources Department will often be the first to know if there are potential safety issues.

Some of you may be thinking, “Yes, HR fulfills certain needed functions. Very nice. But so what? Can HR stop a mass shooting?” Perhaps not by itself. But also remember that violence – both in and outside the workplace – comes in many forms. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence consists of violent acts and the threat of violence, ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide.

So what does Affirmative Action compliance have to do with stopping workplace violence? Here is one way: the OFCCP will investigate complaints of harassment, which if directed at employees in legally protected classes is discrimination. In its investigation, the OFCCP will look to see if the company has anti-harassment policies. It will also look to see if the company followed that policy, taking an interest in whether the company periodically monitors compliance. Harassment, if left unchecked, can and often does lead to violence. (By the way, it’s not always the harasser, but sometimes the victim that resorts to violence.)  Who implements and enforces anti-harassment policies and procedures? You guessed it. HR.

Here is another way in which Affirmative Action plays a role: your company has an obligation to take affirmative action to ensure it hires a diverse group of qualified employees. We have established that Affirmative Action compliance also includes ensuring that employees are not harassed or subjected to discrimination. You already know that to hire a diverse group of employees you need to look to your recruitment and hiring practices. Do those practices include taking steps to ensure that your candidates not only are not discriminated against but also are not likely to discriminate against or harass others based on protected characteristics? How might you do that? You might start by including the right questions in interviews. For example, you might be able to ask a managerial candidate about past supervisory experience and past experience implementing EEO practices.. Assuming that you can get more than just a confirmation of position title, start and end dates, you might, with the help of competent employment counsel, ask these types or other similar questions.  The point is, you might be able to target some of your pre-employment screening toward getting indications of whether your candidate has behavioral tendencies that might fit your company’s definition of workplace violence or harassment.  Who deals with pre-employment screening? Once again, it’s HR.

Let’s look at the issue from yet another angle. Suppose an employee is being harassed not by a co-worker, but by a former spouse or domestic partner. Suppose his or her work performance has suffered, and the manager seeks guidance from HR, who in turn reaches out to the employee and learns of the problem. (If HR does nothing, reasoning that it’s a private and not a workplace matter, it could face discrimination allegations if it happens more than once and the employee is part of a protected class.) Here again, however, HR is in the best position to at least start a process that addresses the problem. Note the key word here: start. HR cannot do it alone.

In many instances, the employer will have an obligation, either established by statute or common law (i.e. court cases), to take reasonable steps to provide a safe workplace.  What might be considered reasonable steps? Evaluating security measures might be a first step. Do you have surveillance cameras or angled mirrors? Do you have a security guard on premises? If not you might want to consider these measures, depending on your company’s contact with the public, contact with more volatile personalities, access to valuables or large sums of money, sensitive information or anything else that might render your company  and its employees at greater risk.  These measures now necessitate involving whoever may be in charge of your company’s safety or security and, probably senior management. In all likelihood you will also need to train your employees about safety measures, and you may need to provide more in-depth training to managers and to those specifically in charge of safety and security.

The above are just a few examples and are by no means an exhaustive list of all angles from which a potential workplace violence threat may originate or how your Affirmative Action Program and your HR Department might be your logical starting point in formulating an appropriate response. As you can see, it is the HR department that first learns of many of the workplace challenges that could ultimately result in workplace violence—and more often than not they overlap with issues that the Human Resources Department is charged with addressing. For federal contractors, affirmative action compliance is a must, not only for keeping your federal contracts but also for reducing the threat of workplace violence. Your HR Department, as the gatekeeper for so many of these issues that can lead to violence must be the starting point for anyone serious about taking a proactive, effective stand against workplace violence.

Part 2 will outline a suggested program to both detect and prevent harassment and workplace violence.

For more information, contact Ahmed Younies at (714) 426-2918 ext. 1.

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