Homicides in the workplace, despite what you might think from reading the news, are not reaching epidemic proportions in this country. They are not even increasing. The total numbers are about half what they were in the early 1990s. Not counting the robberies and other general street crime killings, there have only been about 120 workplace homicides in the last few years. That's not much. So what's the big deal? Why should you be concerned?
The first of several possible responses to that question is that even though the number of people being killed is lower, workplace homicides are still happening. One homicide a year is too many, and your place of employment is as likely as the next for that incident to occur. Don't assume that an apparently harmonious work environment is a guarantee against such an occurrence.
Studies show that approximately one-third to one-half of workplace incidents have nothing to do with the workplace. They are caused by problems brought in from the home, such as serious domestic relations problems. Shootings resulting from the breakup of relationships have occurred in police departments, churches, city halls and banks.
Here is another response to the above question. Most disgruntled employees, former employees or customers, when seeking revenge, do not do it by committing acts of homicide. They will destroy property, disrupt your computer system, spread rumors, harass employees, vandalize, steal or contaminate products. These acts can cause heavy financial and emotional losses. They are capable of destroying your company and its reputation. They require no less attention from you than do potential homicides.
When an employee is the victim of threat or harassment, you must intervene. Every employee, vendor and visitor to your place of employment deserves a work environment free of threats, harassment and intimidation. If this policy is violated, the employer must intervene to protect the targeted person(s), identify the offender and take appropriate action against him or her. There is no shortage of examples illustrating how the victim can become the perpetrator when management does not respond appropriately.
Do Nothing or Do Something
I do a lot of training on this topic. When trainees ask me what they should do when they become aware of a potential problem, I answer them by saying, "There are two ways to respond: do nothing or do something." No one, regardless of their education or experience, can always choose the correct course of action. But you must take some sort of action. The more training you have had, the better your decision will be under the circumstances.
Should you choose to do nothing, the chances are in your favor that nothing will happen. But if you lose, you will lose big time in the eye of the public and in the courtroom. Perhaps the following example can best illustrate my point.
An employee of a Fortune 500 company filed a sexual harassment complaint against a male coworker, claiming he touched her breasts. The company took action. The investigation resulted in the firing of the offender. The company later rehired the employee. He did the same thing again. The woman filed another complaint. This time the company chose to do nothing. The complainant took the matter to court and received an $80.2 million award. It is difficult to imagine what the company's explanation might have been for not responding to the incident the second time.
It seems most court cases are lost not because of what employers do, but because of what they don't do. The four major areas for lawsuits seem to fall in one or more of the following categories:
1) Negligent hiring. Know who you hire. Make appropriate inquiries. The best indicator of a problem employee is prior work history.