According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers do have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of their employees, which includes protection from workplace violence. Preventing workplace violence isn’t always easy, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Take the time to consider the potential risks at your workplace:
Asses the Climate: Prevention begins with knowledge. Ask yourself if there have recently been or will be any circumstances or events that will heighten the sensitivity of employees.
Everyone reacts to stress differently, so it’s important that you pay attention to unusual changes in behavior patterns. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recommends paying attention to increased or unusual incidents of outbursts, belligerence, threats, or changes in appearance or attitude that seem inconsistent with what you know about the individual.
Establish Dialogue: A lot of violence comes from frustration and miscommunication. Anyone who has ever had to deal with poor customer service has experienced frustration. The key to dealing with frustration in a positive way is having the right kind of outlet. Establishing a culture where open dialogue is the norm. Having an appropriate outlet to vent the mental and physical effects of frustration can prevent the kind of festering and negative self-talk that can ultimately lead to violent outbursts. Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs or hotlines that both employees and supervisors can call if the need arises.
Put Together a Plan: Disputes among customers, venders, and coworkers are commonplace in everyday life. You’ll never be able to stop all disagreements, so the goal is keeping these disagreements below the level of physical violence. Most agencies and organizations that deal with workplace violence recommend having a plan for both prevention and dealing with incidents. For more information on planning and prevention see: The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence and The Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Everyone deals with stress differently As Union, management, or worker it’s up to everyone to keep an eye on the working environment of your workplace and create a culture of open dialogue where issues can be readily addressed as opposed to festering in the privacy of your co-worker’s minds.
Agreements may expressly address workplace violence and require that the employer take affirmative steps to maintain a healthy and safe work environment for employees. Below is a hypothetical example of a contract provision dealing with employee health and safety as well as workplace violence and threats of violence:
The employer is committed to employee health and safety. Workplace violence, including threats of violence by or against an employee, will not be tolerated and should be immediately reported whether or not physical injury occurs.
Depending on the union and industry, collective bargaining agreements may contain “mutual respect” or anti-bullying clauses. The inclusion of such clauses in labor agreements is more common in the service and health care industries, rather than in the construction trades, for example, but there appears to be a growing trend in favor of such contract language in those areas. For instance, here is a sample “mutual respect” clause based on contract language negotiated by the Service Employees International Union/National Association of Government Employees (“SEIU/NAGE”):
Behaviors that contribute to a hostile, humiliating or intimidating work environment, including abusive language or behavior, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Employees who believe they are subject to such behavior should raise their concerns with an appropriate manager or supervisor. In the event the employee’s concerns are not addressed internally within a reasonable period of time, the employee or the Union may file a grievance. Grievances filed under this section shall not be subject to the arbitration provisions set forth in this contract.
Contract provisions may go so far as to define and expressly prohibit “bullying,” such as this sample provision based on language from a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the Government Accountability Office Employees Organization, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (“IFPTE”):
The parties will not tolerate bullying behavior, which is defined as repeated inappropriate behavior, either direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical, or otherwise, by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment. Examples of bullying could include: slandering, ridiculing or maligning a person or his or her family; persistent name calling which is hurtful, insulting or humiliating; using a person as a butt of jokes; abusive and offensive remarks.