Spotting Potential Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence Avoidance

According to, the United States experienced five workplace mass shootings in 2017. Cumulatively, 17 people lost their lives in these tragedies, in workplace types that range from an Ohio nursing home to a west coast UPS facility.

A big part of the Findlay All Hazards strategy toward Workplace Violence (WPV) is prevention. Yes, drills that teach your employees how to best react to an incursion by a troubled employee are very valuable, even essential. But stopping that kind of incident from happening in the first place is an approach that we believe all schools, industrial facilities, retailers, healthcare centers (everywhere, really) should adopt.

But preventative strategies have to be created with care. Often a proactive plan will include the step of removing an employee from the workforce entirely if it is agreed that they pose a ‘direct threat’ to other employees, visitors to the workplace, or themselves. This can be seen as a simple way of prevention by the employer: “We believed this person was a threat to our safety, so we just fired them.” Taking that step, however, can result in a violation of the worker’s civil rights if the employer is making their own evaluation of the employee’s mental health.

A recent articleby Allison Waterfield of Bloomberg BNA looks at this in detail. By the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee cannot simply be disqualified from hiring or continued employment because they show signs that could be construed as violent. The ADA does indeed allow for dismissal if a direct threat is posed by an employee or candidate for hire. But the Bloomberg piece quotes an expert as saying, “just because coworkers are perceiving a safety issue doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to show direct threat.”

Employers who are proactive in a circumstance where an employee appears agitated or unsettled will have a plan that allows them to intercede and further evaluate that person with full respect of their rights well before the termination step.

In fact, in some cases, simply showing some respect to the employee may help settle their mind about whatever circumstances in the workplace seem to be upsetting them.

When an employee is acting aggressively or showing signs of frustration that you think could manifest themselves as violence, a good approach is to confidentially, and with great respect, ask that person if you can help them in any way. If the results of that conversation are not satisfactory, we believe that is the time to summon your team.

Findlay All Hazards believes in a WPV prevention strategy that includes a group of managers prepared to share information about employee behavior on-the-job and take consensus action to prevent a flashpoint. This likely means that the team would seek the advice of both a mental health professional and law enforcement. The prevention team would also make decisions about any disciplinary action that precedes termination. Such disciplinary actions should not point to a perceived mental health issue. As the Bloomberg piece points out, employers should “enforce their conduct rules without implicating a disability, where possible.  If an employee threatens harm to others in the workplace, and the employer responds by sending that employee for a medical exam, [that employer] may now be on notice of a disability of which it wouldn’t have otherwise been aware.” Conduct rules are much easier to enforce without the pronouncement of disability. And, such a diagnosis may present a spectrum of new problems for the employer, who may now face serious questions from the rest of the workforce about their own safety in the presence of an unbalanced coworker.

WPV prevention and campus security is one of the key service categories here at Findlay All Hazards. We’re currently working with a major US maker of household goods and a nationally-known university to help them improve their WPV plans, in the categories of both prevention and reaction. No workplace or school is too small or too large to put a strong prevention plan in place. Contact Findlay todayto learn how we can help you stay ahead of one of the most serious problems any employer can face.

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