Workplace Violence

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Ron Smith - Also by this author

Unfortunately calls from dealers throughout the state, dealing with the nature of workplace violence, are becoming more commonplace. Arguments and sometimes fights between employees, verbal threats, written symbols and threatening actions and gestures are occurring with frequency. The situation is fueled by publicity surrounding various shootings and stabbings in the workplace, school houses, etc. Some dealerships have had threats from customers, or threats from spouses or significant others, as to the extra-relationship activities of a partner. Worth noting, the United States Postal Service has undertaken a campaign to have the term "going postal" eradicated from our daily discourse. While we, as a society, may not be much more violent than we have historically been, the difficulty seems to be that, with more population and faster media, instances of violence have become more severe and somewhat more pervasive.

What then can an employer do? The following are some strategies implemented by different companies, some of which may be significant in your workplace:

1. First and foremost, start with the selection process. That would include background checks, police checks, possible drug testing, and the 90-day probationary hire for new employees. If you use the proper application form, you have these tools at your disposal. Also, employers are now protected in some states if they give accurate information on reference checks. Do a two step or three-step interview process, even for the most menial of jobs. Often, the toughest jobs to fill are the low paying jobs.

2. Establish a strong security procedure/anti-harassment policy. Make sure employees know that they can report threatening conduct immediately and circumvent first line supervision if necessary. Urge them to report problem situations or any sort of threatening behavior, whether directed toward them or not.

3. Adoption a zero tolerance policy. Regardless of the worth of the employee involved, if a situation of this sort exists, take immediate and decisive action. Investigate any complaints at once and if they have merit, take action against the perpetrator.

4. Engage in some training to let your supervisors know what to look for. For example, employees who are under protracted stress, for examples. should be offered a friendly ear and some counseling if necessary. You may find yourself even mediating some situations between employees and/or supervisors.

5. Use an exit procedure. Many firms are now going to a framework where terminations are handled by someone other than the first line supervisor. The theory is that there is already an adversarial relationship between the supervisor and the employee, therefore, the termination should be handled by someone who is neutral. At the termination or exit interview, all decisions regarding accrued vacation or other benefits need to be explained, COBRA rights set up, a clear understanding of why the action was taken or should be made, and any sort of aberrant behavior needs to be noted.

6. Learn to assess potential threats. Interestingly enough, many companies are setting up "threat assessment" teams which are people who have some training in workplace violence, whose mission it is to decide whether or not any incident of workplace violence is serious.

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