Workplace violence can pose a significant threat to employees

Employees in Indiana and elsewhere become uneasy when hearing reports of senseless acts of workplace violence. A recent CNN news report underscored how seemingly safe workplaces can be "transformed instantly into danger zones." The report gave three horrific examples illustrating the grim fact that workplace violence is increasingly common in the United States. In an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management, it was disturbingly observed that "violent incidents in the workplace are no longer shocking to our sensibilities."

While most of us assume that the typical workplace is safe, the truth is that physical violence can occur in any workplace setting and at any time. No one is totally immune. OSHA reports that many instances of workplace violence go unreported. The failure to report warning signs of potential physical violence is dangerous since threatening acts can rapidly escalate if not addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.

In an article published on the Business Know How website, Carol Fredrickson, an expert on workplace violence, commented that there are several reasons why employees are often reluctant to report acts of violence or threats of violence. First, employees often hesitate to report incidents due to a fear of possible retaliation against themselves and possibly their families. Second, there is the fear of becoming the proverbial "office snitch" who might be ostracized by coworkers if they speak up. Third, there is often concern that reporting an incident might not be welcomed by one's supervisor who might regard the report as an unnecessary act of rocking of the boat. Fourth, companies often fail to provide proper training that give employees a clear understanding of workplace violence and how to report it.

Dealing with threats

The CNN report on workplace violence notes that coworkers and supervisors need to pay close attention to an employee's disturbing or suspicious behavior. For example, it pays to keep a close eye on someone who is not dealing especially well with a dispute they recently had with a coworker or supervisor. Extra vigilance is warranted if it appears that an employee has developed a sudden fascination with weapons or recent high-profile killings. Another possible red flag would be a person whose actions are increasingly belligerent or who has had a sudden behavioral change.

While employees can and should report acts of workplace violence and threats of violence, the primary duty of making the workplace safe lies in the hands of a company's management. The Inside Indiana Business website advises that employers could make workplaces safer by:

  • Making careful hiring decisions by performing background checks and verifying references.
  • Establishing a written zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.
  • Requiring all employees to promptly and accurately report all violence incidents or threats.
  • Providing training to employees on how to recognize and address violent behavior, assess threats and defuse confrontational situations.

The Society for Human Resource Management adds that employers should try to gauge, during the interview process, how they believe an applicant will act in stressful situations. In addition, workplace harassment can be the instigator of violence in the workplace, employers may consider integrating workplace violence and anti-harassment training.

Seeking legal counsel

No one should have to work in an unsafe environment. An employer has a common law duty to provide employees with a safe work environment including the right to be free from threats and acts of physical violence. If you have been threatened or assaulted at work by a supervisor or a coworker, you should contact an Indiana attorney experienced in handling employment law cases.