Q. We are revisiting our workplace violence prevention program and looking at it from a much broader perspective than when we initiated it many years ago. We want to ensure that we are not only incorporating the latest strategies in protecting our employees but that our program meets current requirements including duty of care. Can you provide any guidance on this?
A. First, we want to commend you for taking the initiative and time to continue to develop your workplace violence program. It’s extremely important not only from an employee safety perspective but also in light of potential legal, regulatory or contractual issues. Estimates vary widely, but there is a surprising number of organizations that still do not have a formal workplace violence program.
Additionally, the definition of a workplace violence program varies from all-inclusive proactive services, intervention and case management on one end of the spectrum to reactive services, such as law enforcement involvement and trauma/grief counseling on the other end. A recent Executive Employer Survey of large cap companies conducted by Littler Mendelson found that 11% of the respondents stated no action has been taken regarding workplace violence because they felt violence wasn’t a concern for their workplace. Only thirty-eight percent said they hold employee training sessions on recognizing and responding to potentially violent situations. The Society for Human Resource Management reports from one of their surveys that 65% of companies don’t have a formal policy to address domestic violence in the workplace, which makes up about a third of all motives for workplace violence.
This wide spectrum of organizational responses to potential workplace violence may be due in part to the fact that there is no legal mandate to have a violence management program. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause requires U.S. employers to provide a safe place to work that is free of hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that the General Duty Clause does not apply to workplace violence. Conversely, some recent legal cases indicate this may be changing.
The only American National Standards Institute approved standard that exists to date is the Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard that was developed in 2011 by ASIS International and the Society for Human Resource Management. Absent regulations this standard by default takes on the role of defining an industry response baseline. Should you have an incident that results in litigation, this standard will likely be one of the first things your program will be judged against, so it is a good check list to compare to your program.
A key consideration while revamping your program is to address the potential legal and regulatory implications in the event of a violent incident in your workplace. If your organization were to become the subject of litigation due to an incident, you can expect very detailed questioning regarding every aspect of your program. To the greatest extent possible, put documented and consistent measures in place that address each known program area. This would include employee awareness, situation management team creation and training, reporting, risk threat evaluation and case management.
Some other very important aspects of a good workplace violence prevention program include, but are not limited to:
- Program name, goals, concept of operation and underlying authority/sponsorship
- Senior management buy-in, oversight and training
- A clear, consistently enforced policy stating what workplace violence is and the corporate response to it
- Creation of a cross-functional team to lead and manage the program as well as incidents
- Threat management team role definitions, responsibilities and training
- Defined and communicated reporting structure and subsequent processes
- A well-defined incident mitigation playbook of options covering administrative, criminal justice system, mental health and civil law strategies to keep people safe and reduce the likelihood of violence
- Organizational training and drills for key areas of concern such as active shooter, emergency response procedures and incident recovery planning
- Considerations for environmental design and other physical security components
Most importantly, the program must fit your corporate culture to be supported and effective. Research and define each program element, choose your contractors and vendors carefully to obtain the results that fit your program the best, and finally make sure each element of your cross- functional team is engaged and responsible for the contents of their area of expertise.
Editor’s Note: You can find resources related to workplace violence on the SEC’s main website (click on the Knowledge Corner Assets filter).