Workplace Violence

In the past several decades, there has been disturbing trend toward escalating workplace violence, including homicide. The problem places all workers, including management, at physical and emotional risk, and it negatively affects a company's productivity and profitability through lost work time and lawsuit.

Both employers and employees need to be concerned and take appropriate steps.

Reaching Epidemic Proportions
Workplace violence began making national news in the 1980s. By 1992, the Centers for Disease Control declared workplace homicide a public health epidemic. During that decade, workplace homicide became the fastest-growing category of murder in the United States. In fact, violent on-the-job crime reached a point where the U.S. Department of Justice declared the workplace the most dangerous place to be in America. According to studies, an employee has a one-in-four chance of being attacked, threatened or harassed.

Who is Involved?
Workplace violence reaches across the entire workforce. It is not restricted to any particular business sector or setting. It is perpetrated against workers as well as bosses, against the self-employed and those working in a family business. Both men and women are victims, but men are more likely to be attacked by a stranger while women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know, such as husbands or ex-boyfriends who take domestic disputes to the workplace. Other violent crimes involve disputes between co-workers. Most are committed during a robbery.

As would be expected, robbery-related homicides mostly happen at convenience stores, restaurants, bars, banks, and service stations. But workplace violence, in its variety of forms, also takes place in unlikely settings such as hospitals and schools. Essentially, it can happen anywhere, from large industries to small businesses.

Murder and robbery are not the only forms of attack. Workplace violence also includes rapes and assaults. Typical attackers include business customers, clients, and patients. Strangers are usually involved in violent crimes such as robberies.

Warning Signs
Perhaps the most disturbing incidents are when co-workers attack each other. Management and employees need to be aware of the warning signs of violent behavior in fellow employees. Behaviors that should place managers and co-workers on alert include:

* An obsession with weapons and compulsive interest in gun magazines
* Direct or veiled threats
* Intimidation of others
* Job obsession
* Lack of involvement with co-workers
* Unwanted romantic interest in a co-worker
* Paranoid behavior
* Inability to accept criticism
* Holding grudges
* Recent personal or financial problems
* Undue interest in recently publicized violent acts
* Testing the limits of acceptable behavior
* Extreme changes in behavior or stated beliefs

Safeguarding the Workplace
Employers are responsible for providing reasonable protection for employees. They are required by law to provide adequate security. However, their efforts should also include designing a workplace violence prevention plan. This plan should include:

* Training workers in precautionary measures.
* Educating workers about what to expect if they become victims.
* Policies and procedures designed to effectively handle actual incidents.
* Guidelines for reporting actual incidents or suspected trouble.
* Encouraging employees to immediately report harassment or other behaviors that indicate potential violence.

In addition, emotional support is very important should violence occur at your workplace, as the psychological impact can be devastating. One incident can affect a person's entire life. Employers should be able to provide employers with access to crime victim counselors should an event take place.

-- Dan Harvey

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