Workplace violence has been well publicized in the press and on television, though only the more sensational cases have been covered; those in which a former employee has returned to gun down his previous employer and some of his former workmates. The perpetrator frequently then shoots himself and the reason for the incident becomes a matter for speculation.
These are extreme cases, and the everyday case, when an employee assaults a workmate or a manager, is rarely given publicity. The worrying fact is that after auto accidents involving professional drivers, workplace violence is the second highest cause of death at work.
There does not seem much of a drive to reduce this statistic, even though there is much that can be done to reduce the number of workplace assaults that occur daily. The law is lacking in teeth and the legislature could also help here. More on that in a minute. There are actions that companies can take to at least ensure that workplace violence is reduced to a minimum. Employment screening, firm workplace rules and proper training of supervision and management are three areas that, if properly handled, could result in significant reductions.
Employers are not obliged by law to carry out employment checks on job applicants. Paradoxically, then, should an employee cause injury to anyone during their employment, including a fellow employee, then the employer is liable for damages if it is established that the employee causing the injury had a previous record that the employer did not take reasonable steps to establish. Even if this was only evidence that there was a possibility of the employee causing injury, such as a driver with a previous suspension, the employer is liable to be sued for negligent hiring.
Employment checks should be made a legal obligation, but even so employers could reduce the possibility of workplace violence occurring if they carried out effective employment screening prior to granting an interview. Many people are persuasive enough to talk their way through an interview, irrespective of their previous employment record. What they cannot do is bypass an effective employment application policy.
If you insist on at least seven years residential history, and seven years employment history, and refuse to accept gaps without written evidence of why these gaps exist, you will be ably to carry out complete criminal record checks in the county of residence, and also request previous employers for references. If relevant, you can also search drivers’ records for previous convictions or suspensions and carry out credit reference agency checks.
If these requirements are stated clearly on your application form, and you state that you adhere firmly to them all, you will find that many applicants will disappear. You do have the problem that previous employers are not obliged to supply references, and some, for their own reasons, will tell blatant lies, but your applicant does not know that. This will go a long way to reducing the potential for violence within your workplace.
It is about time that government got their act together and tackled workplace violence, at least by making it mandatory for employment screening to be carried out, and certainly for employers to provide accurate details relating to previous employees’ employment. There is no reason why this cannot be done.
There also steps that can be taken internally to reduce workplace violence. A clear statement of the penalties should be displayed on notice boards. Any perpetrator should know that they face instant dismissal with a poor reference. This must, however, apply to all employees, including supervision and senior management. Workplace violence perpetrated by senior managers is not unknown, and they too must be subject to the ultimate penalty!
People do not commit workplace violence for no reason and much can be done after the event to establish possible triggers. The results can be used to improve the situation within your company, and reduce the chances of it occurring again. Common triggers are stress through excess overtime and excessive demands placed on the individual by unreasonable supervisors and managers. Abuse of employees by managers is common, especially junior managers who have been inadequately trained, or promoted through friendship or ‘fitting in’ rather than through ability.
In fact bullying, or targeting, of some employees by supervisors and managers is common in business, and most senior managers try to ignore it or pretend it does not exist. When the inevitable happens, and the employee reacts by fighting back, the employee is dismissed and the root cause still exists and turns its attention to someone else.
Although workplace violence is common, much can be done to control the employment of potential perpetrators by the use of a professional approach to employment screening. Few companies tackle the root cause which may lie within their own management structure. A professional approach, or the hiring of professional advice, could reduce the incidence of workplace violence within your company to a minimum, though it is doubtful if it will ever be eradicated.