Workplace Violence Experts Urge Employers to Address Prevention, Training

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

December 4, 2015

Workplace violence experts are urging employers to take steps to address safety and security in the wake of high-profile incidents across the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Act specifically requires employers to maintain safe and healthful workplaces, making workplace violence prevention a compliance concern. However, because workplaces differ in terms of their susceptibility to a potential security threat, an employer should take steps that best address a site's particular risks.


Terri Solomon, a Senior Shareholder at Littler with expertise in workplace violence prevention, recommends that every employer have a workplace violence policy. "Many do not," Solomon stated during an interview with XpertHR. "These policies are very easy to draft and let employees know what constitutes workplace violence and include a reporting procedure where employees are encouraged to come forward if they see or hear or sense anything that makes them feel uncomfortable."

Solomon urges employers to take the following four steps in order to address workplace violence concerns:

  1. Review current manuals or handbooks to ensure that a workplace violence policy is in place;
  2. Designate a threat assessment team or management response team in the event of an incident;
  3. Train managers and employees on workplace violence policy and prevention; and
  4. Conduct a security and safety audit (either internally using trained security on staff or by engaging a security consultant or local police department).

Information that is reported regarding potential threats may require an employer to engage threat assessment experts, forensic psychologists, outside legal experts or law enforcement officials to assess the potential risk and act accordingly.

Targeted Training

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the roughly 4,600 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in 2014, 307 were intentional shootings. Solomon recommends that certain employers (for example, certain healthcare providers or places of public accommodation) conduct "all-out safety drills," especially for an active shooter scenario. Although there are logistical complications and expenses attached to this approach, Solomon emphasizes that many companies are opting for these drills so that "employees will remember what to do."

Federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, provide employers with tailored resources for use in workplace training. Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued updated guidance for protecting healthcare and social service workers from workplace violence.

Rick Dielman, Chief Account Executive at Alliance Work Partners, an employee assistance program provider with headquarters in Austin, Texas, also advises that employers engage in policy development and recommends training on the best strategies in dealing with the media, which is a common occurrence in the event of an incident.


Unfortunately, not all incidents of workplace violence may be prevented. Once an incident takes place, Dielman explains that "all responses should be customized to the event itself and to the workplace." If offered by the employer, Dielman states that a "good, full-service employee assistance program will be familiar with the culture and climate and tailor its response to the environment in which the event took place." In addition, Dielman recommends that "redundancies be built into response systems so that services are never interrupted," such as during a regional telecommunications failure due to a large-scale incident.

Employers may consider a variety of responses in addition to counseling services provided by an employee assistance program or grief counselors. Solomon recommends that employers review existing time-off or leave policies and encourage open communications with employees regarding their needs during an event's aftermath.