On August 24, 2012, a laid-off clothing designer reportedly shot and killed an executive of his former employer just outside the Empire State Building in New York City.  These men had a history.  According to news reports, they had filed complaints against each other more than a year earlier following an altercation.  The alleged gunman periodically returned to his former employer’s premises after his discharge.  Some reports state that his visits were for the purpose of collecting insurance benefits, while others state that the visits resulted in confrontations between the alleged gunman and the victim.  In any event, the shooting could just as easily have occurred inside the workplace as at the building entrance.  And no employer wants to find itself unprepared and facing a similar situation.  So what can you do?

Prevention is the primary goal of any plan addressing workplace violence.  There are many things an employer can do to protect its employees, such as:

  • During the hiring process, be sure to check references and explore gaps in applicants’ employment histories.  These practices will help you hire better employees in the first instance.
  • Train your supervisors on recognizing work behaviors that could lead to violence and how to deal with inter-employee conflict and horseplay.
  • Train all of your employees on your harassment and workplace violence policies.  They should know how to report problems and suspected issues.
  • Plan for the worst.  Teach your employees how to react should violence erupt in the workplace.
  • Make sure your workplace is secure.  This may include anything from lighting and cameras to limiting access to your facility.
  • Put the proper policies in place.  Prohibit weapons, drugs, and alcohol at work.  Institute an Employee Assistance Program.

Hopefully, you never have to deal with violence in your workplace, but you still have to be prepared in case you do.  To the right of this column, there is a box you can click on that will take you to a total workplace violence primer.  It discusses the legal implications of workplace violence, as well as more in-depth strategies for avoidance.  I hope you’ll check it out.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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