Every employer, regardless of their size or industry can be susceptible to workplace violence. Almost every week in the news, we hear about someone who committed a violent act at work. These are usually major incidents which cause serious injury or death. However, as EAP counselors we also hear about more frequent and less severe situations which if left unresolved, can evolve into much more serious situations. It is never a good idea to ignore or avoid uncomfortable situations with employees because employers are afraid to confront a potentially violent employee or a fear of making the problem worse. Many employees who have committed violent acts again their employers have admitted that they did try to complain or express their feelings but felt they were not being heard so they took more serious action.
Two employees argue in the break room and idle threats are made; someone shoves another on the line; an employee finds an anonymous hostile note on her desk; an abusive partner shows up at the workplace looking for his spouse. These situations are some examples of potential workplace violence which should be addressed by employers to avoid serious injuries or death at work.
One of the most important parts of violence prevention is training. When employees and supervisors are aware of potential warning signs, they can intervene early and violence can be prevented. Too often, we hear after an incident that there were warning signs but no one took them seriously. Our message to employers is to take every threat seriously and to investigate all situations thoroughly. Companies should have a zero tolerance policy for weapons at work, threats or physical altercations.
Training should include learning to recognize early warning signs, identifying behavioral patterns of potentially violent employees, understanding the types of workplace violence to minimize the risks, and proactive steps to take to prevent violence as well as a crisis plan for dealing with the situation, should it occur.
The EAP is an important part of a company violence prevention plan. We can assist with training employees about the warning signs of potentially violent employees and together with your human resources or security department, we can help educate employees about how to report or intervene in certain situations. We can assist with mandatory referrals to the EAP and facilitate referrals for fitness for duty evaluations. If a violent incident should occur we can provide a critical incident debriefing for those who were involved.
While no one ever wants to think about violence at work, it is very important to have a prevention and response plan in place.