If someone walked into your business this afternoon with a gun what would
your employees do? Should your employees hide under their desks, head
to a staircase, lock themselves in their offices? Do your employees have
their own guns, and should they start a shootout?
No employer ever says "well today is the day we'll have ourselves
a crisis." But in this day and age bad things happen. Even the best
company can have an employee with a troubled relationship that spills
over into the workplace. Every employer needs to have some plan - some
procedure that tells employees how to respond in an emergency. Don't
be the employer on the evening news that says "We never thought it
would happen to us."
Consult Security Experts
An employer cannot have a one-size-fits-all plan for workplace emergencies.
Your company's response to a violent incident requires different considerations
from any other type of workplace accident or emergency. Consider bringing
in security experts to guide the creation of your company's plan.
An experienced security professional can look at the layout of your office
and make recommendations for enhancing employee safety in the event of
a violent act.
A friend of mine served on the advance team protecting the British royal
family. His job was to enter any building that was to host a protectee
and look for hidden dangers. His job was to ensure that the protection
team had a defensible position in the event of an incident. Experts like
this spend their careers thinking about the logistics of workplace violence
- spotting vulnerabilities that others never see and mitigate those risks.
He noticed that Americans don't like to sit with their backs to the
door. So if an HR Manager at an American office must terminate someone,
they will often enter the conference room first, and choose the seat facing
the door. The employee they are firing must then take the seat across
from them. So if things go badly, and the situation escalates to violence,
the angry person being fired is between the HR Manager and the door. A
safer posture would be to always seat the person being terminated on the
wall side and the HR Manager with the door behind him, able to escape
if the situation turns violent. A trained security expert may be able
to propose similarly simple solutions for use in your office.
Workplace Violence Policies and Procedures
Policies and procedures directed at workplace violence situations must
be thorough and specific to situational dangers. For instance, an evacuation
because of a shooting must be handled differently than a fire evacuation.
After a fire you want your people to gather so you can see who is missing
and tell the arriving firefighters. But instructing your employees to
gather across the street in a shooting evacuation makes them vulnerable
to the gunman. This is only one example of how employers must carefully
consider the legalities and liabilities that are specific to a violent
incident-before, during, and afterwards. How you will account for everyone
after they have exited? What will you say when the police ask who is still
in the building? What happens when employees want to re-enter the building
to get their personal belongings? The short answer is that they cannot
- and you need to be ready to answer the questions that will follow: "Do
I come to work tomorrow?" "Will I get paid for tomorrow?"
"Can I work remotely?" It is not hard to predict the questions
that arise in the aftermath of a crisis - but it is hard to answer them
Workplace Violence Prevention Begins with Awareness
Though the annual number of workplace violence incidents is "only"
about 500 in the United States, approximately 400 people are murdered
each year in American workplaces and 1 out of every 6 fatal workplace
injuries is a homicide. Employers who think that they are safe because
they do not operate the kind of business that tends to get robbed should
note that only about one-third of workplace homicides are related to a
robbery. Beyond homicides, assaults and sexual assaults are all too common
in the American workplace. Those numbers tend to be under-reported but
one study found that in one five year period the number of sexual assaults
in the American workplace was 36,000. Workplace violence may be unthinkable,
but today employers must plan for the unthinkable.
About the Author: Stephen B. Williamson is a principal attorney with The
Van Winkle Law Firm.
Employment and workplace law is one of the primary focus areas of his practice. His past experience
as a police officer, as well as extensive investigative training, informs
his approach to developing workplace violence prevention and response
plans for employers. He has experience developing and implementing workplace
violence policies, procedures and courses of training for employers from
a variety of industries, including a Fortune 500 company that operates
approximately 7,000 retail outlets.