Unfortunately, workplace violence is still an ongoing issue in workplaces today. Workplace violence is typically defined as any acts or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) reports that acts of violence and other injuries is currently the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States and the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has reported that every year, approximately two million people throughout the country are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace. Even though workplace violence continues to be an issue in our workplaces today, there are steps employers can take to reduce the likelihood of violence happening within their workplaces.

One of the best ways to take preventative steps regarding workplace violence is to have a well thought out and clear written zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence. This policy should be included in the company handbook which is provided to all employees in the onboarding process. The policy should cover all individuals that may come in contact with your company’s employees, including contractors, visitors, and customers.

Another helpful policy for employers to have is an open-door policy. Open door policies simply state that a supervisor, manager, or upper management is open to an employee’s questions, complaints, suggestions, and challenges. Open door policies encourage employees to report inter-personal conflicts with other employees and by them doing so allows employers to resolve issues before they become more serious conflicts.

Employees should also be encouraged to report incidences of workplace violence, even if they believe the incident was minor. Employers can encourage this by having managers go over the zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence on a regular basis and offering clear and easy reporting procedures to employees. It is helpful to provide important telephone numbers for reporting to employees that they can use during a workplace violence incident. Also, companies should have written procedures and training regarding emergency exits, alarm systems, and personal security measures in case an incident involving workplace violence occurs.

While having policies is a great step to preventing workplace violence, policies alone are not enough. Employees, especially supervisors and managers, need to be trained in recognizing and reporting incidents. Training should include how to identify warning signs, such as an employee making a direct or veiled threat, an employee is suddenly and constantly complaining of unfair treatment, and bullying, harassment or other aggressive behavior that could be indicators of potential workplace violence. Managers and supervisors also need to be trained on how to handle complaints, and on how to take action to make work environment safer, including how to deescalate a situation.

In addition to having policies and training employees, employers can also do a worksite analysis regarding workplace safety. Some workplaces can be more prone to workplace violence, as such, a thorough assessment of the facility, existing security procedures, and potential vulnerabilities should be completed by the employer.

When doing an assessment, a physical survey of the workplace is always a good place to start. A physical survey should be done once in the daylight and once in the evening or during the night depending on when employees are typically in the workplace. During this walkthrough, employers should be on the lookout for potential vulnerabilities such as doors being left unlocked or open, little to no procedures or failure of staff to follow procedures for when outside individuals come into the workplace, poorly lit parking lots or parking structures, and areas that are blind spots for security cameras.  Once a physical survey is complete employers should take steps to remedy any potential safety issues that were discovered.

The actions listed above are important steps that employers can take to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence occurring. It’s important that employers be aware of risks of workplace violence in their companies and take steps to proactively address them. The more proactive the employer, the better the outcome will be.