Workplace violence can occur at any moment - is your company prepared?

June 20, 2022
Detroit, Michigan

Workplace violence can occur at any moment – is your company prepared?

Detroit-–-June 20, 2022-–- With the alarming increase in mass shootings, employers need to refocus their efforts on best practices for maintaining a safe workplace, from hiring and firing practices to open communication channels that allow employees to express safety concerns without fear of reprisals – either by the employer or a fellow employee. Acknowledging that workplace violence can erupt randomly, Deborah Brouwer, managing partner of management-side labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law, PC, notes there are steps employers can take to help mitigate the potential for violence.

“We are all seeing the spike in workplace violence, from healthcare facilities to manufacturing settings; sometimes there are red flags, but other times not. Add in heightened tensions and emotions as more people return to the formal workplace following an extended work-from-home pandemic experience, and it’s clear that employers need to prioritize reviewing and updating their workplace safety and violence prevention policies and practices now,” Brouwer said.

Brouwer adds that employers have a responsibility to put practical safeguards in place to keep employees protected in the workplace to the extent that it’s possible.

To help avoid violence or identify red flags in the workplace, Brouwer suggests:

  • Conducting thorough background checks prior to making an offer to ensure the prospective employee doesn’t pose an identifiable, potential risk.
  • Developing or recommitting to a trustworthy culture, where staff feel comfortable bringing concerns to leadership.
  • “If you see something, say something.” If something seems off with an employee, it’s okay to check in on them.
  • Implement reporting procedures that permit employees to report their concerns anonymously.
  • Having proper security systems, which may include keeping exterior doors locked and ensuring office doors are capable of being locked. 
  • Monitoring employee social media posts, including former employees who left under negative circumstances or previously made threatening comments as they relate to the employer or fellow employees.
  • Encouraging employees to let you know if they are a victim of domestic violence, threatened violence, or stalking.
  • Advocating that employees prioritize and tend to their mental health. Examples include encouraging employees to use personal, sick days, or FMLA leave as appropriate for mental health needs; sending periodic reminders to employees about how to utilize the company-provided insurance plan to set up mental healthcare appointments; and, if feasible, providing employment-based mental health or counseling services.
  • Training HR and management personnel on signs of violence or abuse, signs of mental health distress, and trauma-informed practices for engaging with employees who are currently or have recently suffered from trauma.
  • Creating an active shooter plan and holding semi-annual training for employees to ensure there is a well-informed plan of action.

Appropriately plan for staffing changes, terminations, and external team activities:

  • Promotions and terminations can elicit adverse reactions from staff members; be sure communication is delivered clearly and with empathy as necessary, depending on the action taken.
  • Have detailed, safety-focused practices for employee terminations, including, when and where the termination will take place, who will provide notice of the termination, whether security will be present for the termination, and how to immediately collect or disable the employee’s keys, access cards, passwords, and security codes.
  • Offsite activities should be treated as they would in the workplace; do not relax standard safety practices. Report concerning statements or behaviors witnessed at offsite activities - even where the concerning behavior is demonstrated by a family member or guest of an employee. Clarify that any weapons policies in place are applicable to offsite activities.

“Some cases of workplace violence are unavoidable, but there are situations where preparation and best practices can prevent or reduce its devastation,” Brouwer said.

About Nemeth Law, P.C.

Celebrating 30 years in 2022, Nemeth Law specializes in employment litigation, traditional labor law, workplace investigations, and management consultation and training for private and public sector employers. The firm also provides arbitration and mediation services. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.