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The recent devastating homicide of bright, accomplished, and to-be-wedded Yale graduate student Annie Le is being termed an act of workplace violence. The incident sheds light on the dark side of workplace safety and the threat and danger of workplace violence.
Are there steps employers can take to protect their employees and safeguard their workplace?
1. Establish a Zero Tolerance Policy. To leave no question about your company or organization's stance on workplace violence, establish an explicit zero tolerance policy that calls for disciplinary action or termination for threatening behavior or action. You can send a written memo to all employees about the company policy update and can also reiterate the stance at an all-organization meeting.
What should be included in a company zero-tolerance policy?
- Look to existing examples of zero tolerance policies to form an idea of what to include in yours.
- Define workplace violence by what it is, and what it is not
- Be sure to extend zero-tolerance to intimation of threats or negative feedback on social media outlets as well as those verbally or physically
2. Train Managers on How to Recognize Early Warning Signs. The key to prevention is being able to recognize and act on cues. Consider calling in experts to train supervisors and managers on how to spot trouble or danger. A little front-end investment in such training can prove to be useful and even life-saving in the future.
3. Emphasize Incidence Reporting Among Employees. Even trained supervisors may miss signs and actions that colleagues may catch. Reiterate to employees that they should report dangerous behavior and threats. Employees may fear losing their job or may want to avoid bothering their supervisors with complaints about coworkers, but such hesitation could lead to serious consequences and could endanger employees. Whether in one-on-one meetings or company meetings, reiterate what behavior is unacceptable and the protocol that employees should follow in reporting any incidents of workplace violence.
4. Formalize an Exit Procedure. Just as your organization may have established procedure for hiring, such as employee orientation and review of company policy, your company may want to establish protocol for termination. Whether it includes a brief exit interview reviewing the rights and responsibilities of the terminated employee and the company or an exit video and list of resources, it is important for the former employee to know that retribution and violence are not options in coping with job loss.
5. Notify Police of Illegal or Suspicious Behavior. If supervisors or employees are explicitly threatened or physically harmed by an employee or former employee, they should contact authorities immediately.
6. File a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). A TRO is often used in situations of domestic violence to protect against an abusive partner, however, it can be used to establish court-mandated protection from a potentially abusive or violent employee.
By taking proactive steps, small business employers can become better equipped to recognize and respond to workplace violence and protect their employees.