How to Prevent Workplace Violence

Don’t Let Your Staff Join the 2 Million Americans Impacted by Workplace Violence Every Year

All counterproductive work behavior (CWB) negatively impacts a company, but violence in the workplace is a particularly heinous problem. Not only does violence inflicted upon your staff or customers create lasting damage to them, but it can cause problems for your business in the long run — especially if it’s not properly dealt with.

Depending on your industry, Verensics discovered that between 2% and 9% of your candidates were involved in violent behaviors at work in the past.  While this may not sound like a significant number at first, consider the seriousness of the behaviors.  Behaviors identified range from bullying, to planning revenge on a manager, to fighting with coworkers.

Unfortunately, workplace violence isn’t always as obvious as you’d think; it can take numerous forms, some of which are more subtle than others. While physical violence and assault are noticeable to anyone who is present, behavior like bullying and harassment also fall into this category of CWB. And both of those tend to be more elusive, particularly if your company is on the larger side.

So, while it may be tempting to assume violence isn’t occurring under your organization’s roof simply because you haven’t heard about it, that is most likely not the case. In fact, workplace violence is far more common than you might think. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), around two million Americans are victims of workplace violence every year.

Employees in the healthcare setting are perhaps the most at risk, accounting for 75% of the 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually. Nearly 44% of teachers have reported being physically attacked as well.

On the employer’s end, workplace violence is shown to cost companies up to $121 billion per year. That’s why it’s critical that your company takes complaints and signs of violence seriously, and does everything it can to weed out such behaviors. Ignoring or overlooking the problem can lead to serious consequences that can harm your employees, your business, and your bottom line.

Types of Workplace Violence

Before delving further into the consequences of workplace violence, it’s important to recognize the different ways this CWB manifests itself. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Such behavior can range in severity from threats and bullying to assault and even homicide.

Here are the main ways violence in the workplace shows up:

  • Physical assault: If one of your employees physically attacks another employee or a customer, that’s a clear act of violence — and one that’s punishable by law. Physical assault can include hitting or kicking, sexual assault, and any other action that causes physical harm to another person.
  • Harassment: We’ve covered sexual harassment in the workplace in depth on our blog, but harassment can take multiple forms. If managers or other employees are discriminating against or antagonizing someone based on their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else, it could be a legal violation. The main indicator that behavior qualifies as harassment is that it’s intended to terrorize or torment someone, and that it presents a “credible threat” to a person’s safety and well-being.
  • Threats/Intimidation: Threatening and intimidating others is similar to harassment, though threats may be more outright than the types of comments typically used to harass someone. Employees may threaten others or attempt to intimidate them in order to obtain something they want. While outright threats — especially ones suggesting physical violence — are illegal, some intimidation tactics may be too hard to make a legal case for. Regardless of which category such behavior falls under, it’s considered an act of workplace violence and can negatively impact the people at your company.
  • Bullying: Bullying in the workplace can intersect with harassment and intimidation, but some types of bullying are much less severe — and thus, more difficult to legally punish. That said, verbal assaults and behaviors intended to humiliate and insult other staff members can bring about negative consequences just as much as more outward forms of violence can.

Legal Ramifications

The most obvious consequence of violence occurring at your company is the potential for legal ramifications. Physical and sexual assault can both result in hefty lawsuits, as can harassment and certain instances of intimidation and bullying. If employees can prove they were put in harm’s way or discriminated against — and that the company ignored such behavior — they can take legal action against the business.

If your company is forced to fight legal claims from staff members or visitors/customers, expenses can quickly add up. This is particularly true if a settlement must be reached.

Worker’s Compensation

If an employee is physically injured by a co-worker while on the job, they can file a claim to receive worker’s compensation benefits. This means your company might be responsible for medical expenses associated with the event, as well as for any time off needed to care for the injuries. Much like dealing with lawsuits, this consequence of workplace violence can take a toll on your company financially. Even if your insurance company winds up footing the bill, the more worker’s compensation claims that are filed against your business, the higher your insurance premiums go.

Negative Reputation

Violence in the workplace can result in a negative reputation for your business, especially if it stems from poor management. Although smaller instances of bullying may not become public knowledge, any type of harassment or violence that leads to a lawsuit also brings about negative publicity. Having an act of violence shape the public’s perspective of your company is the last thing you want. It could lead to decreased interest in doing business with you, and that’s especially true if violence takes place against a visitor, client, or customer.

Instances of workplace violence can shatter public trust in a business, which negatively impacts your bottom line in the long run.

A Hostile Environment

Workplace violence breeds a hostile work environment, something that comes with costly consequences of its own. If employees are miserable or afraid clocking into work every day, their performance is likely to suffer. Lower employee morale, decreased productivity, and absenteeism are just a few of the consequences shown to be associated with workplace violence. That’s not to mention the toll it takes on employees mentally; if your company concerns itself with the well-being of its staff, violence is certainly something you’ll want to prevent from happening.

In addition to creating an all-around negative atmosphere, workplace violence can also result in high employee turnaround. Some of your best workers could leave in an attempt to escape the hostile environment created by violent behavior. That’s a high price to pay.

How to Keep Violence Out of the Workplace

Workplace violence is no joking matter, and it’s something businesses should make the effort to prevent. Doing so benefits your company, employees, and customers by creating a safe and productive environment.

There are numerous ways to keep violence out of the workplace, starting with adopting a no-tolerance policy for such behavior. Your rules regarding such actions should be clearly laid out so that there’s little room for interpretation. The consequences of breaking these rules should also be clear. The most important thing about implementing a no-tolerance policy is to make sure you enforce it. That means sticking to your word and punishing people for infractions — even letting staff members go if necessary.

Creating a Workplace Violence Prevention Program can help you stay on top of your no-tolerance policy by clarifying whose role it is to address such behaviors, how incidents are recorded and tracked, and what the protocol for handling complaints and incidents is. Establishing a clear system for address violent behaviors ensures nothing falls to the wayside. Here are some tips from OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on setting up your Workplace Violence Prevention Program:

  • Outline your no-tolerance policies and the consequences of breaking them in your employee handbook
  • Establish a system for documenting complaints and incidents
  • Come up with an intervention strategy for when violent situations do occur
  • Conduct regular reviews to address previous violence and how to prevent this behavior moving forward
  • Address the aftermath of workplace violence through referrals for mental health services, employee assistance programs, and open communication between employees and employers

Addressing the issue of workplace violence during the hiring stage is another way to curb this CWB. Screening applicants properly and conducting thorough background checks reaveals any previous history with violence or criminal behavior, both signs that your company should steer clear of a potential hire. Additionally, personality assessments can pinpoint candidates more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors like workplace violence, allowing your company to avoid bringing such individuals onboard.

Verensics’ assessment software is one means of exposing red flags early and screening out candidates who were involved in workplace violence in the past or have antisocial attitudes toward hostile or violent behavior in the workplace. The Verensics’ online evaluation was crafted by longtime corporate investigators and organizational psychologists with the purpose of influencing applicants to reveal information about themselves they might be tempted to hide. Such an assessment is a vital part of uncovering violent tendencies before they wreak havoc on your company.

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