From convenience store robberies to teachers being physically attacked in schools to disgruntled workers bringing guns to the office, workplace violence and crime has become a serious — and ongoing — problem.
While no one can predict when a workplace crime might occur, it’s wise to take a proactive approach to the problem and develop a plan to deal with it before it happens. The scope of the plan should be largely determined by the size and nature of your business.
The easiest and most straightforward part of such a plan is to protect your physical environment so that unwanted intruders cannot physically enter the premises; or if they do, they can be easily spotted. Through the use of alarms, security cameras, and guards, you can set up a security system to protect your place of business, your inventory, and your high-priced equipment.
Along with taking the standard safety precautions to protect your property, you must also protect your employees from both external and internal crime or acts of violence. This might include issuing security badges for employees to use when entering or exiting the premises, providing training in personal safety, distributing company mobile phones for employees working off-site, and other crime prevention measures.
Unless there has been a pattern of recent robberies in the neighborhood, it’s impossible to predict a robbery by an unknown intruder. However, disgruntled workers, angry customers, or recently terminated employees often commit crimes against businesses. A significant number of these crimes have advance warning signs, such as threats or displays of inappropriate behavior. Therefore, any threats (whether direct or veiled), intimidation, or harassment in your workplace should be immediately reported to the appropriate person in your company.
Prior to asking employees to file such reports, you need to have a clear plan in place for handling such inappropriate behavior; otherwise employees will not bother to report these types of incidents. Since inappropriate behavior or comments can range from suggestive sexual advances to someone threatening to kill the boss, your plan for following up on such actions needs to be flexible. Such a plan should include increased awareness by supervisors regarding the actions and/or activities of the individual. This can involve reviewing past employee conduct reviews, or casual discussions with other managers and employees about the individual in question. You may also wish to meet with that person, or have his or her supervisor or a Human Resources professional discuss the issue.
The behavior of an individual can indicate that a violent or criminal incident might be forthcoming. Such behaviors include:
- Constant blaming of specific people (typically managers or executives) for whatever goes wrong;
- Intimidation, bullying, harassment, inappropriate behavior, and/or threats of harm or violence;
- Frequent, obvious mood swings;
- Aggressive behavior or displays of anger;
- Antisocial behavior or complete withdrawal from social interactions;
- A clear preoccupation with violence or criminal behavior;
- Indicators of serious depression or desperation;
- Clear evidence of alcohol or drug abuse.
Increased attention to employee rights, and the subsequent rise in lawsuits, has created a society in which many potentially dangerous or harmful situations are neglected for fear of litigation. However, such issues must be addressed. It is therefore helpful to have a written document or handbook detailing acceptable and unacceptable employee conduct, with consequences clearly outlined. This should include such areas as threats, intimidation, and harassment (including sexual harassment). Distribute these printed guidelines to new hires, and have them sign a form acknowledging they have read them.
If an actual crime or violent incident occurs in your workplace, depending on the size and scope of the actions, you need to either address it yourself or report it to the local authorities. Make sure you gather the facts and get written statements from all witnesses before taking any disciplinary action. Before making any accusations, interview as many people as possible, and call in outside assistance if necessary to help determine if evidence points to a particular individual.
If you have clearly pinpointed the accused party (again depending on the size and scope of the incident), you should immediately take disciplinary action, as stated in your employee handbook. Have safety measures in place for your other employees, and an evacuation plan ready to be used if necessary.
Since there are so many possible scenarios when discussing violence and crime, it’s difficult to provide specifics on what “must” be done. In such situations, flexibility and sound judgment are your best allies.