How to Prevent Workplace Violence

by David Menzies

A bomb at an Air Force recruiting station. A shooting rampage at an Orlando area RV and camper awnings business. Another at a San Francisco UPS warehouse. These are just the most recent, high-profile instances of what experts put at roughly 700 workplace homicides per year in the United States. For the business community, especially startups building staffs from scratch, the threat of workplace violence calls for not only prevention and planning, but screening as well. Startup TechWire recently spoke with Steve Rutledge, Chief Operating Officer of SJR Security Consulting Services, LLC, about what businesses need to do to protect their employees and customers.

Q: Are we seeing an uptick in workplace violence in the US lately or is it in line with "normal" occurrences?

A: I would say it’s on track with what has occurred in the past and I think the media reports it more than in past years. This increase in reporting is due in large part to the perception it is increasing in frequency. I think this is happening due to incidents like San Bernardino when what was at first thought to an incident of workplace violence quickly became a terrorist attack. I think the bigger issue is that companies are not prepared for incidents of workplace violence. Companies are largely reactive and do not implement policies and procedures to deal with someone before they become someone that carries out a workplace attack.

Q: What are some key causes of workplace violence?

A: Most cases of workplace violence are caused by either disgruntled employees or as a result of some type of domestic-related issue. We are all familiar with the disgruntled employee scenarios where an employee feels wronged, etc. and returns to the workplace and attacks managers, supervisors and/or co-workers. That is what occurred in the recent attacks in Orlando and San Francisco. What most people don’t realize is that domestic-related issues also cause a lot of incidents of workplace violence. These issues from either a spouse or significant other coming into the workplace and attacking their spouse/significant other or situations where family members working at the same company or family business attack one another. The domestic incidents involving a spouse/significant other sometimes involve one spouse having a protective order/restraining order against the other and they sometimes fail to inform their employer of this or the company has ineffective or no access control measures or security procedures in place to prevent access by non-employees.

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Q: Are any workplaces more apt to see violence from workers than others?

A: There do not seem to be any types of workplaces that are more susceptible than others. All companies, businesses, agencies – regardless of size – are susceptible for occurrences of workplace violence.

Q: What are some examples of types of workplace violence?

A: Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. Again, workplace violence includes physical attacks; any threats spoken, written or electronically transmitted; intimidating or threatening behavior; harassment; coercion; and other behavior or comments that attempts to harm or give reasonable cause to believe it places others at risk. One of the key elements that is often over-looked is the threat part.

Q: Is there a typical type of employee who may pose a risk?

A: While there are no “typical” traits of employees that may pose a risk, there are indicators that some employees that may be prone or likely to carry out acts of workplace violence may exhibit. They are listed below and this is not an all-encompassing list. The key is people that commit acts of workplace violence do tend to give off indicators.

*  Irrational beliefs and ideas
*    Unwarranted perception of unfairness
*    Displays of unwarranted anger
*    Self-image of being “irreplaceable”
*    Isolation – depression, suicide threats
*    Erratic job performance, inability to take criticism
*    Use of threats – verbal, non-verbal, written
*    History of drug or alcohol abuse
*    Obsession with weapons
*    Recent family, financial or other personal problems

Q: How can companies prevent attacks?

A: While someone intent on carrying out an attack is tough to stop, companies can take proactive measures to potentially prevent an attack. Steps that companies can take are listed below:

· Zero Tolerance Policy – it all starts with a Workplace Violence Prevention policy in place. All companies – regardless of size – need to have a policy in place and, in my opinion, the policy needs to be a stand-alone policy and not buried in other human resources or security policies. The policy also needs to include a zero tolerance aspect, meaning that any employee that commits any type of threat, violence, etc. that goes against the workplace violence prevention policy is immediately terminated. The challenge is all internal departments within the company need to be in agreement on what “zero tolerance” actually means. For example, in the Orlando incident, law enforcement had responded to the same workplace three years ago to deal with the person that carried out the act for some type of incident where he allegedly “battered” another employee. If a true zero tolerance policy was in place the employee would have been terminated.

· Educating the Workforce – Companies need to be providing awareness training in the area of workplace violence, what it is, how to prevent, the warning signs, etc. I have found that once you educate the workforce, companies are discovering that they have potential issues that they were not even aware of and that can be startling. By educating employees, they understand the issues and what to do and the importance of taking action.

· Establishing a Threat Assessment Team (TAT) – A Threat Assessment Team is an internal, cross-functional team comprised of members of functional orgs within the company to investigate and mitigate potential issues. These teams are comprised of key leaders from internal orgs such as Security, Human Resources, Legal and IT. Others – such as a representative from an Employee Assistance program (EAP) can be added as needed. When the TAT is informed of a problem employee, a potential domestic situation, etc. they immediately meet to discuss the situation and make decisions to mitigate the risk and protect company employees. These teams are very effective if developed and implemented properly.

· Coordinate with Local law Enforcement – companies need to have an established relationship with local law enforcement. This will pay dividends in the event they have to deal with a potential issue and need to contact law enforcement.

· Security Assessments – companies should have their facilities assessed by a professional security expert to identify potential security risks that could potentially allow a workplace violence incident to occur.  These assessments should be conducted by a security consultant and documented and mitigation strategies developed.

· Reporting & Investigations – in addition to the ITAT investigations, there needs to be the means for employees to report, including anonymously.

· Incident Action & Recovery Plans – The hope is to prevent such occurrences but companies also need to be prepared to respond and recover in the event an incident does occur. Companies need business continuity plans and crisis management plans that address such incidents. If there is a shooting within a company’s office, that area becomes a crime scene and the space will not be usable by the company. What does the company do? How do they continue to be operational, etc? Additional aspects that need to be addressed.

SJR Security Consulting Services, LLC, a Veteran Owned Small Business, providing expertise and problem solving solutions to security challenges for both government agencies and private sector companies.  SJR delivers results to complex security issues while providing flexible, “as needed” consulting services and hands-on support. For more information contact Steve Rutledge at, 703-577-2159, or visit