HR Support on Violence in the Workplace

Editor's Note: Stop the fighting and get back to work.

Melissa BoyceOverview: Violence in the workplace can consist of anything from a small altercation between two disputing employees, to a workplace shooting, to a full-blown terrorist act. As part of an overall risk management plan, employers should be on the guard to protect workers from all acts of violence in the workplace.

There are many different forms of workplace violence. The FBI classifies workplace violence into four groups:

  • Type 1: Violence by criminals;
  • Type 2: Violence by customers, clients, etc.;
  • Type 3: Violence by former or current employees; and
  • Type 4: Violence by a visitor with a personal relationship to an employee (such as a friend, spouse or other family member).

Policies and procedures should be in place that address acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior, proper security measures and how to deal with threats or acts of violence. With the third type, there may be signs of trouble prior to a violent incident, such as bullying. Therefore, HR must address all threats and all signs of workplace bullying before an act of violence occurs. Employees who work in areas where violence is more likely to occur, such as convenience stores where robberies are more common, should be trained in the proper procedures.

Many employers choose to have zero-tolerance policies that require immediate termination for any act of violence, no matter how minor. Others choose to offer counseling or other disciplinary procedures prior to termination. While violence itself is not an OSHA-regulated standard, some states do have laws on the topic, and OSHA may fine employers under the General Duty Clause for having an unsafe work environment.

Trends: With workplace shootings seemingly in the news on a regular basis, employers may find it prudent to train its workforce on dealing with an active shooter situation. The Department of Homeland Security provides various materials, courses and workshops on this topic.

Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, JD, Legal Editor

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HR guidance on preventing and responding to violence in the workplace. Advice on creating plans and polices that prevent or limit workplace violence.