Weekend Think: Workplace violence: It could happen here

21. March 2018.

“If I ever got the chance, I’d kill my boss before he knew what hit him.

Do you have a plan and policy that allows you to address a statement like that from an employee who receives a poor performance appraisal?

The recent active attacker tragedies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; the Mandalay Bay outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas; and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando all had at least one commonality: Each of those sites was somebody’s workplace.

Every bank—every business—should have a program to recognize, report, and respond to the risk of workplace violence, and a strategy that views every employee as a part of the solution to this increasing risk. The safety of your employees should be your highest priority.

The data behind the risk

The startling statistics of workplace violence serve as a catalyst for business leaders to commit to building a program before their risk becomes a reality.

• Nearly 2 million US workers are victims of workplace violence (WPV) each year

• Murder is the #2 cause of workplace death for women

• Domestic disputes that spill into the workplace are the major root cause of WPV

• 30,000 sexual assaults per year happen at work

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• WPV lawsuits cost companies an average of $500,000 per out-of-court settlement

• Workplace assaults cause over $120 billion in annual losses

Four categories of workplace violence

Experts recognize four types of violence at work:

Type 1: A criminal with no connection to the business enters to commit robbery or other crimes. (Banks were robbed over 4,000 times in 2016).

Type 2: Violence directed at employees by a customer or others to whom the business provides service.

Type 3: Violence against co-worker by a present or former employee.

Type 4: Violence by someone who doesn’t work at the bank but has personal relationship with an employee.

The most common category of WPV is Type 4. While banks are anomalies because they are targeted more often for robbery (Type 1), bank leaders who ignore the reality of the other three types do so at their own peril.

Apply a broad definition

A commitment to reduce the risk to your bank, its employees, and its reputation begins with defining workplace violence for your business. Experience and legal precedent favor a broad definition that includes any conduct on company premises or while conducting business anywhere when such conduct is intended to cause physical harm to a person, or property. Conduct, both physical and verbal, intended to negatively impact the safety or security of your bank should be included.

A broad definition allows your legal and human resource units to address problem behavior early and swiftly—supported by written policy. Further, an inclusive policy sends a strong message to all that the bank will not tolerate fear in the workplace.

Your bank’s WPV policy should include threatening behavior. Again, this makes it possible to quickly address unacceptable conduct that could rapidly escalate to violence. Communications or actions intended to arouse fear, hostility, intimidation, or the apprehension of harm in one of your employees—including members of their family, friends, co-workers, clients, or their property—need to be within the scope of “workplace violence” at your bank.

Examples of conduct that such a WPV policy would cover include an employee “keying” the car of a co-worker in a parking lot; a disgruntled teller stating that she knows where her manager lives and “might have to pay him a visit”: or a loan officer suggesting to an angry customer that they settle their dispute “outside, one on one.”

Stalking is part of WPV

A workplace violence policy that includes threats, by definition, includes the growing trend of stalking—both the physical and the cyber varieties. Recent data show that as many as three out of five new relationships begin on-line, so it stands to reason that those who meet on-line may also break up, fight, and threaten each other on-line.

Since we know that domestic disputes are a major root cause of WPV, develop a strategy that encourages employees to share restraining or protective orders with Human Resources, Management, or Security.

Too often, corporate culture views such matters as entirely personal. But when violence results, the bank may be held liable for failing to secure its workplace.

Spell out who is a “protected person”

Now that you’ve defined workplace violence and threats it’s important to articulate who is a “protected person” under your policy. Again, broad inclusive language lets it be known that you have zero tolerance for anyone to feel threatened while under your care, and facilitates rapid handling of a potentially violent scenario.

Employees, visitors, customers, vendors, and contractors should all feel safe while dealing with your bank whether they are on- or off-site. For example, a client who contacts your call center and is threatened by one of your employees while on the call should be treated as a protected person.

All employees must know “3 Rs”

Ultimately, workplace violence requires all employees to be engaged as stewards of your business and responsible for safety and security. Management should teach them the “Three Rs” of workplace violence:

• Recognize

• Report

• React

Every employee should learn to recognize the early warning signs of violence. Reporting concerns should be easy to do through multiple options—even anonymously. Once a report is made, the ball is in management’s court to process it and act credibly, professionally, and swiftly.

Remember, after every incident, a co-worker or manager almost always says they knew something was wrong and wished they had acted. Don’t you be that person. And be sure all your employees are equally motivated.

In the next installment of this article we’ll explore the “The Three Rs” in greater depth, and talk about how to react to an actual violent incident.

About the author

Frank Figliuzzi is the chief operating officer of ETS Risk Management, Inc., and consults with global clients on workplace violence, insider threat, and investigations. He was the FBI’s assistant director for counterintelligence and served as a Special Agent for 25 years. He is a national security contributor for NBC News.

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