Workplace Violence Is Your Problem

How WPV hurts every business, why most companies do not protect against it, and what Security can do


Hitting Business Where It Hurts
Rosalind “Roz” Jackson, consultant and founder of Train Intervene Prevent, specializing in workplace violence prevention, can effortlessly recite a litany of ways in which WPV incidents hurt businesses. “There’s a whole slew of them — everything from morale to money,” Jackson says. “Negative publicity, damage to the company’s reputation, the medical and cleanup costs if there is an incident and someone does get hurt. The list goes on and on.”
The legal liability of a company at which a workplace violence incident has resulted in injury or death will vary depending on who is hurt, says John Thompson, partner at Oberman Thompson & Segal LLC. “If an employee is injured, the company’s liability is normally limited to recovery under the worker’s compensation system, because they have been injured on the job,” he says. Therefore, the employee generally is unable to file a civil suit against the company because worker’s compensation is regarded as his or her exclusive remedy. “On the other hand,” Thompson says, “if a non-employee is injured, the sky’s the limit.”

Dietz is able to put an estimated price tag on various workplace violence incidents based on years of experience and research in the field. “A mass murder will cost a larger company $10 million or more, and may destroy a smaller company. A rape, mutilating assault or homicide for which they are found liable will cost them more than $1 million. But the hidden issue is the harassment, threats and other behaviors that affect the productivity of 10 percent or more of employees at every company every week.” Victimized employees may have trouble concentrating at work and are more likely to arrive late and leave early. They also tend to have high absentee rates.

In addition, the 10-percent statistic may grow if the behaviors directed at a single employee begin to affect the workers around him or her. If one person routinely receives threats by phone, e-mail or in-person, other employees who witness this may become afraid to come to work or may themselves become too distracted or worried to work efficiently.

All of these factors cost the company money, because it has to allocate more resources to get the same amount of work done. And while the cost of lost productivity is more difficult to see than the cost of a homicide or assault, it is perhaps a much more sinister problem: It is a constant, running drain on company resources.

Why Are not the Majority of U.S. Businesses Listening?
One might think that the profusion of workplace violence issues combined with their surprisingly high costs would have businesses across the country standing up and taking notice — and many are. As noted, the Fortune 1000 has seen WPV as its top security threat since 1999. But American business is much bigger than the Fortune 1000. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study in 2005 found that 70 percent of U.S. businesses did not have workplace violence prevention programs or policies in place, with small companies up to six times more likely to go without prevention than their larger counterparts. That sad statistic leads to three possible conclusions:

1. Those responsible for preventing workplace violence do not recognize the importance of having a program or policy in place;
2. Executives or upper management are not providing the funding and support to create or maintain a WPV prevention policy or program; or
3. No one knows who should be responsible for WPV prevention.

Let’s deal with these problems one at a time.

Why It Matters to Have a Program or Policy
First, a company with a written or even a verbal policy or program for preventing WPV will be more able to actually prevent it than a company that relies on employees’ individual perceptions of problem situations without providing them any guidance. Without organized training, employees, managers and supervisors will not know the warning signs of WPV — they probably will not even know all the behaviors that fall under the definition of WPV — and they certainly will not know how to deal with these warnings or to whom they should report them.

As former manager for Georgia-Pacific’s dedicated workplace violence prevention program, Jackson was given the opportunity to evangelize WPV’s potential impact across the corporation, offering training on how to recognize and report signs of troubling behavior and trouble situations. “The benefit of having a dedicated program is that employees know there is somebody paying attention to this issue and there are people who are putting the training out there to prevent it who have the expertise to deal with it — trained folks that they can call and talk to about an issue,” Jackson says. While smaller companies may not have the resources to create a dedicated program of this type, they can gain some of these benefits by creating a solid policy, educating employees and outsourcing training and other functions where appropriate and necessary. Keep in mind, though, that any policy is only good if there is a culture present that enforces it consistently across the board.

Another reason it matters to have a written program or policy in place has to do with liability and compliance. While there are no federal rules in place specifically mandating workplace violence programs in private industry, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s OSH Act Section 5 requires every employer to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” If an organization shows systemic, repeated problems of a similar type that allow workplace violence to occur, it may be found in violation of this Act and liable for the applicable fines and penalties. This is not often done, however, says Thompson, who believes business’ greater concern should be showing due diligence in a civil suit over a WPV incident.

“The primary claim in a civil lawsuit would be for negligence,” Thompson says. “So, if you could show that you were acting like a reasonably prudent employer for a company of your size and this incident was unforeseeable, all of these things would absolutely be helpful.” If a company could show a written policy or program for prevention in court, and if it tracked or recorded WPV incidents as part of that program or policy, it would likely assist them in court if a civil suit were filed.

In addition, says Thompson, “OSHA has published non-binding guidance for several industries on the issue of workplace violence, and there is a principle in negligence law that says if the government is giving guidance for what you ought to be doing and you are not doing it, it could be used as evidence that you are not acting in a reasonably prudent manner. It does not have the force of law or regulation, but if you are not at least doing what the government is suggesting, you may have a harder row to hoe.” There are also individual state initiatives that should be considered, which deal with workplace violence-related issues, such as robbery.

How to Make the Case
If you as the security professional are the only person at your organization that recognizes the importance of WPV prevention, it is in your interest to try to gain support for a program or policy across the corporation and in the boardroom. Security’s responsibility is to protect the business and its employees, and this issue impacts both.

This article provides a starting point for outlining the business risk of WPV to management and the board. Useful statistics and other information can be found at the Bureau of Justice Statistics (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs), Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (www.cdc.gov/NIOSH). A consultant with legitimate credentials and extensive experience in workplace violence prevention may also act as a valuable resource in making the case to management.

Prior to approaching senior management, it is always good to try to get as much cross-functional support as you can. In this case, the buy-in of HR is critical, which leads to the third issue.