While we like to think our organizations provide a safe working environment for our employees, the sad reality is that workplace violence is all too common. It’s estimated that two million employees are victims of workplace violence every year. That does not include incidents that go unreported.
What is workplace violence?
Workplace violence does not simply include tragic instances of active. Workplace violence is broadly defined as any instance including (but not limited to):
- An employee’s property targeted and vandalized or destroyed
- Violent confrontations in the workplace through threatening words or body language
- Some instances of sexual harassment
- Physical assaults
- Armed robbery
- Hostage situations
- Death by suicide or homicide
It’s easy to think that if your organization is not a convenience store or bank that it may not be at risk for such violence; however no industry or occupation is truly insusceptible. Workplace violence can occur at any location where an employee performs their work-related duty, extending beyond a brick-and-mortar facility to parking lots, clients’ homes, and the commute to and from work obligations. Because of this, employers are at risk for workers’ compensation claims if it appears the incident could have been prevented.
What may result from a workers’ compensation claim prompted by workplace violence?
Depending on the exact circumstances of the incident, the effects may be far-reaching- both costly and timely. An injured employee may require any of the following as a result of workplace violence:
- Emergency medical treatment
- Extended hospital stays
- Physical therapy
These expenses can stack up quickly, causing even a catastrophic claim to your organization. In addition, time off work can negatively affect productivity, employee morale and ultimately profit.
How can an employer prevent workplace violence?
Sure, there is always the possibility of random violence that may be completely unpredictable and unpreventable. Although, providing a safe working environment still remains an obligation of any employer. There are measures that can be taken to prevent workplace violence at any facility.
- Thorough hiring process – Any time new personnel are hired, comprehensive background checks should be conducted. This should include a look at the applicant’s criminal history to identify any instances of violence or threats. Digging deeper into any gaps in employment can be valuable, as they may be a result of committing a crime and serving time. It’s also critical that your hiring team contact former employers and references to confirm the validity of employment history and potentially reasons for termination. It helps for employers to require applicants to complete a full job application, as opposed to relying entirely on their resumes.
- Zero-tolerance policy – Employers should not tolerate any amount of violence or threats no matter how silly or harmless they may seem. Enforcing such a policy should be done strictly with explicitly written protocols so there is no confusion as to disciplinary actions that may be taken, including termination, should employees exhibit aggression or violence.
- Employee supervision – Leadership should be trained and expected to identify red flags. Acknowledging behavioral warning signs and early intervention can prevent the possibility of an employee-on-employee incident. If a manager or supervisor notices an employee making menacing threats, exhibiting stalking-type behaviors, sharing illogical thoughts or physically presenting a threat, it needs to be dealt with immediately. With proper disclosure, it may even be valuable to monitor employees’ communications through work-related channels as deemed necessary. Addressing performance and disciplinary issues promptly and consistently can prevent an unstable employee from doing something violent.
- Adequate training – All employees should receive training for both internal and external threats. If there is an internal issue between an employee and a customer, visitor, patient or another employee, the knowledge of how to diffuse a potentially violent interaction can be the difference between life and death. This may include training employees on how to properly handle terminations sensitively. As part of a training, employees should be encouraged for coming forward to report any instance of actual or perceived threat so that it may be documented and addressed right away.
- Physical safeguards – Practices as simple as deactivating terminated employees’ ID cards or changing locks to doors to which they have access can prevent a disgruntled former employee from returning. Surveillance equipment and security guards may also help prevent outsiders from coming on your premises. It may be valuable to restructure the layout of furniture in a location or to install safety mechanisms for employees to utilize in the event of a lock-down or evacuation.
How can costs incurred from a workplace violence workers’ compensation claim be managed?
Workplace violence can have a profound effect on your entire workforce. In the unfortunate event that such an event takes place and an employee is a victim, there are ways to manage their claim before the costs spiral out of control:
- Provide employees with access to an Employee Assistance plan
- Offer counselors to affected employees and their families
- Consider implementing a Return-to-Wellness program which can get employees back to work faster
- Work with claims management experts who communicate effectively and efficiently with all affected parties of a claim
If you’re interested in a risk analysis for your company, developing a safety training program or reevaluating your workers’ compensation insurance, VFCA is here to help. Contact us today to get started.