It happened again the other day. Five employees were shot and killed at an Annapolis Maryland newspaper. Nearly every day the news media reports a killing in schools, churches, and workplaces. There seems to be no end to the violence happening in our communities.
In this article we want to focus our attention on lessening the chance of workplace violence. We’ll get to specifics of terminations in a follow-up article, but for now let’s just say that terminating an employee is never fun or easy. Experts who deal with high risk violent people indicate there are some basics an organization might follow to lessen the threat of a violent act. It’s important to remember almost any person may become a violent threat under the right circumstances. Therefore, this article is more about using excellent human resources strategies rather than simply dealing with high risk violent persons.
We recommend companies take a proactive rather than a reactive strategy when dealing with high risk violent persons. Again, notice these ideas focus on excellent human resources practices that might help to lessen the chances of a violence in termination situation.
Crisis Management Plan:
A Crisis Management plan which lays out who has certain responsibilities if a crisis happens. The plan should cover incidents in which the crisis would result in a real disaster regardless of the potential frequency. That might include a crisis that might result in a financial crisis or serious loss of life or physical injury.
- Consistent violation of policies
- Complaining attitude
- Life crisis
- Work quality begins to slip
- Becomes distant to others
- Conversations about violent situations
- Changes in hygiene
- Makes threats
Companies should prepare and make available some form of handbook that presents the rules of the road so to speak the employees are expected to follow. It should include policies among the others that communicate expectations regarding workplace harassment and violent behavior. In addition, include a policy that communicates what happens when company rules are not followed.
Progressive Discipline Policy:
Your organization may wish to consider some form of progressive discipline policy, (although it’s not the best choice for every organization). How might a progressive discipline policy help? The experts seem to indicate there is a lesser likelihood of a violent reaction on the part of a high risk violent employee when the firing is not a surprise – maybe even expected by the employee; so progressive discipline can help prevent some organizations from shooting from the hip with terminations. (Progressive discipline might make sense for the non-confrontational boss who typically tolerates substandard behavior or performance before reaching his/her limit and moving directly to firing.) At the very least managers should never overlook it when employees break policies and should always communicate the behavior in question is unacceptable.
(If you choose a progressive discipline policy, make absolutely certain you don’t jeopardize your employment-at-will status by promising that every event will be handled on a progressive discipline basis.)
Establish and publish a zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence in your employee handbook. Employees need to know they can expect freedom from workplace violence, but also that they are expected to behave in a safe manner. OSHA recommends as well to include for safety training for employees that would spell out which conduct is considered not acceptable, so including that information in the policy as well may make sense for your company.
Workplace Harassment Policy:
The employee handbook should contain a Workplace Harassment Policy which spells out the company’s commitment to a workplace free of harassment AND the employees obligations to behave in a non-harassing manner towards others. Remember that workplace harassment prevention is one of our specialties, and includes both policy as well as training.
One upfront tactic for dealing with high risk violent people is to not hire trouble. Sometimes persons at risk for violence have histories of violence, antagonistic behavior, or insubordination. Frequent job changes can be an indication the applicants struggle with controlling these emotions (although frequent job changes can be due to a number of non-violence issues, such as a culture fit). Reference checks, criminal background checks, and the interview are some of your best tools for assisting with these.
- Check references. Our general recommendation is “no references – no job offer”. References take time up front, but they can pay off well if done right. Absence of any references or absence of good references should be a concern and cause you at least to dig a bit deeper before making an offer.
- Criminal background checks. While more states and communities are going to “Ban the Box” information, that does not prevent organizations in those localities from making a conditional offer and then conducting a more extensive review of the applicant’s background. (Remember there are legal rules for using information obtained on criminal background checks, but, again, that doesn’t mean they’re not often invaluable.).
Suggested Interview Questions:
- Did you resign from your most recent job or were you terminated?
- Did you have any friends at your last job?
- What was the stressful part of working for your last employer?
- Did your manager appreciate your work?
- You’ve worked for many employers, what seems to be the reason?
- Do you find it difficult to fit in the company?
- Managers are sometimes difficult to deal with. What’s been your experience?
On-Boarding should be more than taking the new hire to his/her desk and calling the other employees to come meet the new employee. A comprehensive on-boarding program takes time. Some companies may take up to a year to complete the on-boarding plan, but, regardless of time, here are some onboarding tips related to non-violence.
- After giving the employee the manual to read, review some of the policies that are more of a sticking point with your company and review with him/her employment posters, particularly the OSHA and non-discrimination.
- Review the non-violence, safety, firearm policies (if any) and workplace harassment policies.
- Stress what safety looks like in your department, and where you definitely don’t want shortcuts taken.
- If you get push back from the employee in the explanation, make certain you deal with it upfront and quickly.
An employee who’ll shortcut safety rules is more likely to give reign to behavior that will harm others. My (Doris’s) dad used to say that children need to feel safe and secure, yet not be held too tightly. Dealing with employees’ work concerns and yet holding them accountable for fulfilling their job responsibilities is just another way of making employees feel safe and secure, yet allowing them to grow in adulthood. If an employee kicks too hard, then you may need to part ways.
We’ll tackle the issue of terminations in a later post, but, for now, if you’d like assistance evaluating your current recruitment or onboarding process, we’d love to chat!
Bob & Doris Scribner