HR.com

"Dr. Picore was interviewed about workplace violence policies and procedures and their implementation in the U.S. workforce"

HR.COM Article featuring Dr. Dana Picore

HR'S CHALLENGE OF COMBATING WORKPLACE VIOLENCE:
Structured and Proactive On-site Violence Prevention Programs Needed to Reverse the Alarming Trend.

Chicago, IL, - Apr 19, 2004 One of the major challenges facing HR departments in our multi-national, extended enterprise business culture is dealing with increasing occurrences of violence in places of employment. Work sites, once considered reasonably protected environments, today are no longer automatically considered safe havens for employees or employers, a fact that presents an entirely new set of challenges for already over worked HR departments. In particular, workplace homicide is now a leading cause of job-related deaths in North America. Recent studies indicate that workplace violence has increased dramatically in the past decade. Such actions can occur inside or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to sexual or physical assault, as well as homicide. One of the reasons cited for increased job violence is that many employers have had to increase their labor forces in the growing areas of outsourced telemarketing and call center operations. All too frequently, in the rush to fill positions, new hires are taken on without proper candidate screening by employers who are not fully prepared for the challenges of increasingly hostile work environs.

The Facts About Workplace Violence

A U.S. Department, Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics study reported that in 2001 there were 5,915 total workplace injuries. Of these incidents, 908 were assaults and violent attacks on other employees, resulting in a total of 643 deaths. These workplace homicides included 509 shootings, 58 stabbings and 58 random acts of violence, including bombings. The total also included an astounding 230 self-inflicted injuries for employees with personal problems that went unnoticed prior to the act. The same study recorded a small decline in 2002, with a fatal injury total of 5,524. Of the 5,524 incidents, 840 were documented acts of assault and violence, including 609 homicides ? 469 shootings, 58 stabbings and 82 random acts, including bombings. Another 199 acts of violence were self-inflicted injuries that proved fatal. The decline in violent instances from 2001 to 2002 was the lowest ever reported. Realistically, some two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year, with more than 15 percent of reported incidents resulting in serious, aggressive acts that lead to employee reprimand or termination.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (EEOC) estimates that 40-70% of women and 10-20% of men experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. More than 15,000 sexual harassment claims are reported to the EEOC annually, with the number of complaints filed by men more then tripling in recent years. Furthermore, a 1999 survey concluded that the number of human resource professionals investigating one or more incidents of sexual harassment has risen from 35% to 65% in the last three years within the U.S. alone, illustrating that no organization can afford to overlook male workers as potential victims of workplace violence. And while many businesses have sexual harassment policies, many of these procedures to enforce these policies remain outdated.

Regardless of a worker's gender, companies are liable for their employee's job safety, and consequently are now suffering millions of dollars in annual losses due to absenteeism and workman's compensation payouts. A 2001 study from the United States Department of Labor reported a total of 5.2 million total workplace injuries and illnesses resulting in 2.6 million lost workdays. Some of these incidents are due to job stress, a common symptom of possible workplace violence, as well as cases of harassed employees or victims of workplace violence who have no alternative but to miss work. Many could have been avoided with proper preventative measures in place.

There are also significant legal implications that occur following a workplace violence claim as many cases end up in court. Liability expert Norman D. Bates reported that since 1980 an average out-of-court settlement is about $500,000, while a Jury verdict could win a victim up to $3 million of the employer's money. These figures are based on landmark cases such as Avis Car Rental, in which an employee, who had not undergone a full background check, subsequently assaulted a co-worker. If a background check had been completed, either by the employer or an outsourced recruiting and staffing agency that specialized in background checks and screening applicants, a $750,000 award would have been avoided, as the offender had a record. In another case, an Amtrak employee shot a supervisor and the courts awarded the supervisor $3.5 million. The result was handed down after Amtrak failed to discipline the same employee for a previous action that indicated violent tendencies.

Dr. Dana Picore, PhD, a former Los Angeles police officer and now training instructor for the L.A. Police Department, who is also a licensed psychotherapist and threat assessment expert says that: "In the U.S., governing authorities encourage and recommend suggested policies and procedures to address workplace violence, but the solutions vary widely from state to state. And, many companies only offer minimum risk management procedures such as the development of safety guidelines and a pamphlet that outlines these procedures for employees.

However, these procedures are not always enforced and do not put a complete threat management program in place that trains others to prevent violent acts before they occur. Most importantly, there are few workplace management programs that instruct personnel on how to handle issues of threat or violence when they arise."

Finding a Solution

The above statistics underscore the growing need to develop structured, proactive on-site violence prevention programs for the workplace if we are to reverse this alarming job trend. The best protection available to an HR department for any company in North America is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence -- against or by a company's employees. All companies should be prepared to proactively provide safety education for its employees, including new hires, so they fully understand that any threat of violence will not be tolerated. Proper policy and procedure guidelines should clearly spell out what threats or violence entail, and what actions an employee should take if they feel threatened. Furthermore, it is in the best interest of both employer and employees to fully understand, right up front, the exact course of action a company will take against any person who enacts a threat of violence against another employee; and, this may include involving the authorities. To further reduce workplace violence, companies should also encourage witnesses of violence to feel secure in reporting an act on behalf of someone else.

Many companies today are installing video surveillance cameras, alarm systems and extra lighting to minimize access by strangers, as well as using ID badges, electronic keys, and guards to help maintain a safer work environment. Some companies are even installing new biometric techniques such as eye scan systems, but these are costly and not yet perfected. Employees may feel safer if they walk to and from their transportation with a co-worker or with a company-sponsored escort service. Taking a cue from many college campuses, where violence is also on the rise, such deterrents as whistles or motion detectors can be an inexpensive solution. These simple techniques can help eliminate some of the most obvious difficulties and expenses required to instill better preventative measures in-house.

Most importantly, managers and supervisors should all undergo regular safety training, and employees also need to know where to go to get help should a situation arise. OSHA suggests that any person who has been a victim or witnessed a threat of violence should feel comfortable reporting the incident to the appropriate person within the organization, as well as to the police. Ironically, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice, 52.1 percent of all violent acts committed at a place of work are never reported to the police, meaning that perpetrators often are not punished to the full extent of the law.

If any company's HR department feels it cannot undertake the necessary steps to avoid workplace violence, there are numerous agencies and staffing companies available to which these important functions can be outsourced. These specialists, working with best of breed technologies and highly trained management personnel, can often provide such functions as candidate screening, background checks, drug testing, behavioral screening processes and on-site risk management programs more effectively and at less cost than trying to keep up with workplace violence procedures in-house.

However accomplished, it is crucial, to help alleviate this growing trend toward increased workplace violence, that companies shoulder more of the burden of safety and strictly enforce a position of zero-tolerance for job violence. Violence prevention programs are necessary regardless of the expense, and it is incumbent upon every company, as well as state and federal governments, to implement successful multiple measures to prevent workplace violence. As a consequence, a company that goes the extra mile for safety will benefit from increased employee loyalty, low turnover rates, better reputations, lower insurance costs and all the savings that can be passed along to the customers they serve.

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