Protecting employees from workplace violence

Sept. 9, 2011 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart
Protecting employees from workplace violence

In Panama City, Fla., a man called a local restaurant and threatened "to drive my truck through the building and kill everyone," following a domestic dispute with his wife who was employed there. He made good on his promise smashing through the Waffle House and hitting his wife with his vehicle. She was taken to the hospital with non life threatening injuries. He was arrested for attempted murder and felony criminal mischief. This was just one of the estimated 13,000 acts of violence against women at work each year by their domestic partners.

The abusive behavior takes many forms, all intended to establish power and control over another person within a domestic relationship. The behavior may be verbal harassment, stalking, threats; as well as assault, rape and homicide. The victims of these abusers are in the workforce and odds are very high that a number of them could be working for you. Almost one in four are employed in retail environments. The effects of domestic violence spilling into victims' work lives may be manifested in the employee's lack of concentration, emotional instability and late or poor attendance. All of these affect productivity.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crimes released these findings regarding domestic violence invading the workplace regarding employed, battered women:

  • 74 percent were harassed by their partners while they were at work·
  • 56 percent arrived one hour late to work five times per month.
  • 54 percent missed at least three full days of work each month·
  • 20 percent of those murdered by their partners were murdered at their workplace·
  • 78 percent of Human Resource Directors identify domestic violence as a substantial employee problem·
  • Each year lost productivity and earnings due to domestic violence totals $1.8 billion

The most profound effect of domestic violence affecting the workplace is the abuser's intimidation or violence at the work site. This is not only directed at the domestic partner, but to other employees as well.

Many managers and owners of businesses have taken the position that domestic abuse is a personal and private matter. They are uncomfortable and confused about how to respond when alerted to issues of harassment to employees or violence in the workplace. Other barriers may also exist in addressing these issues, such as the cost of providing services, ignorance of the issues and cultural and social beliefs.

It would seem the easiest solution would be terminating the employee who is the abuser's target. It is not that simple. All threats of violence, including those from co-workers, customers, strangers, or in this case domestic relationships are the responsibility of the employer. Statistically, with one in four women and possibly a number of males affected, the problem could involve a substantial number of employees. Terminating employees over their domestic partners' threats further traumatizes them and possibly exposes the organization to employment liability. If other employees are aware of such terminations, they may be reluctant to notify employers of threats. These businesses will then be unprepared to take appropriate precautions to avoid incidents

What you can do in the workplace

Educate: Utilize domestic violence experts in the local community to train and educate your staff at no or low cost. The local Chamber of Commerce or domestic abuse service providers can furnish referrals and recommendations. Those service providers could also be an ongoing resource for your organization in training your managers to understand the effects of domestic abuse; how to recognize and react to threats or acts of violence; and how to refer abused employees for services. Establishing those relationships means having a local expert as a partner to call on when the complicated issues of domestic violence arise.

Policies and Procedures: Integrate domestic violence policies with other policies on health, security and life safety. Include protocols of how to react to threats to employees at the workplace. A security expert could be utilized to assist in integrating appropriate policies and procedures with security and safety planning. An excellent resource to develop your own policy on handling domestic violence complete with definitions, commitments, reporting structure, educational resources, confidentiality statements and other issues to consider can be found on:

Refer: Provide referral sources for employee assistance through Employee Assistance Programs or local domestic violence agencies. Hang posters in break rooms or time clock area; distribute pamphlets informing employees about domestic violence, and post local and national support phone numbers. The information should also be included in employee handbooks and company literature. Provide employees with immediate help should they need it.

Respond: Take action on any threat or act of violence in the workplace just as you would with other internal or external threats. Managers and supervisors should be trained on appropriate actions to prevent and react to threats or acts of violence. All threats of violence to the workplace should be reported to local law enforcement.

Domestic threats and violence affecting the workplace is a serious, recognizable and preventable problem. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than 70 percent of workplaces in the U.S. do not have formal workplace violence programs or policies in place. If your workplace falls into that category, take a proactive approach. Create a plan so employees and management know what to do if a violent situation is threatened or occurs. Provide avenues for your employees to come forward with their fears without retaliation.

Don't wait until your business is shown on the local newscast with a truck parked in your demolished dining room or your staff is threatened. Your employees are your greatest asset. Keep them out of harm's way with proactive training and education. They need your help and support.

To take a five question quiz on Workplace Violence go to:

Topics: Loss Prevention, Staffing & Training

D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands. wwwView D. B. "Libby" Libhart's profile on LinkedIn

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