How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Threats or Violent Behavior
In the first of this two-part series, we explained the signs of a potential threatening or violent situation. Now, learn how to address these warning signs and next steps to take.
Last month, we discussed 36 possible warning signs of workplace violence. While none of the behaviors I wrote about are absolutes or mean the person exhibiting them will become violent, you should be aware of the signs. While every person and every situation is different, you need to be able to effectively and safely handle any people or situations that may need attention.
All threats or changes in personality or behavior must be taken seriously. If you notice any threatening behaviors, you should alert appropriate personnel and human resources, if your business has an HR department. Always treat the person with respect when talking with them. The goal is to avoid any escalation.
Employers have a responsibility to protect employees from outside threats as well as inside ones. No matter the size of your business, you should always:
- Have a clear, written policy that communicates zero tolerance toward workplace violence in any form;
- determine in advance what discipline will be taken against employees who threaten or take violent action in the workplace, and follow through if such threats arise;
- create a management team trained to recognize the warning signs of potential violence;
- alert your employees about what constitutes workplace violence, including destruction of property and implied threats of violence, and encourage them to report these incidents immediately;
- have a reporting system (e.g., an anonymous hotline) to let management know about suspicious or threatening behaviors; and
- learn to recognize employee behaviors that contribute to workplace violence, such as emotional disturbance and substance abuse.
How to address a potential threat
Workplace violence training can be helpful. There are firms, such as mine, that offer workplace violence training for managers and employees. Learning the warning signs and how to properly and effectively deal with them can mean the difference between a violent and a non-violent outcome.
Here are four tips for dealing with threatening or violent behavior.
Tip No. 1: Assess the threat. If you find yourself in a threatening situation, try to remain calm. Do not confront the person or try to be a hero. Does the employee have a history of erratic behavior? What was the tone of the threat? How specific was it? An employer should weigh all facts in order to assess the seriousness of the threat. If time permits, consider involving a forensic psychologist or an outside investigator.
Tip No. 2: Implement security measures. If a credible threat is identified, take steps to promptly implement security measures. These may vary depending on the circumstances, including preexisting security in the workplace, the nature and seriousness of the threat, and the employee's behavioral history.
Some immediate steps you can take include changing access codes, changing or adding locks, hiring outside security, contacting law enforcement, altering other employees, lockdowns, etc.
Tip No. 3: Remain positive and respectful. Your workplace environment and culture should be positive. Treat all employees with courtesy and respect. If you must terminate an employee, do so with respect, allowing them their dignity. You may want to offer outplacement services.
Tip No. 4: Help protect confidentiality. Provide a confidential way for employees to complain or to report any unusual or threatening behaviors.
If you do find yourself in a violent or threatening situation, try to signal to someone to call the authorities. Keep talking to the person and try to keep them calm. Look them in the eye and treat them with respect.
If you are the employee's supervisor, consider various levels of discipline depending on the severity of the threat. If the threat involved a weapon, the employee needs to be immediately removed, and perhaps fired and prosecuted. However, a less severe threat may warrant different action. For example, a trivial or minor statement not intended as a threat by one employee, but perceived as one by another employee, might be resolved by separating the two employees involved for a period of time. If you decide to terminate the employee but feel threatened, you can hire an outside firm to conduct an “armed firing” where they will come in and make sure the employee does not cause any problems while they are removed from the premises.
Following a threatening or violent incident, you should offer counseling services to anyone involved. People may be traumatized and they will experience a range of emotions, so mental health resources are important. Your insurance company may be able to recommend psychiatric resources to help cope with trauma. Depending on your policy, they may pay for treatment.
There are organizations that may be able to help, such as:
Being prepared and informed can go a very long way in preventing a workplace violent situation or lessening the impact of an actual threat.
President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.