Human Resources Has a Huge Role to Fulfill in Preventing Workplace Violence… and They Hold the Solutions!

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Human Resources Has a Huge Role to Fulfill in Preventing Workplace Violence… and They Hold the Solutions!

Posted on: May 9th, 2017

In this edition of the Nater Associates, Ltd. Blog we introduce the value of our RAP (Robust Agile Proactive) Concept from the perspective of the Human Resource Professional in illustrating the value of Integrating, Collaborating and Coordinating (3CL) the workplace violence prevention effort through effective Leadership. Claire Knowles brings a plethora of experiences and specific expertise. We hope you enjoy the collaborative effort because we firmly believe management commitment and investment is essential in communicating the leadership role.

It has often been said that Bullying happens because it can! This begs the question, Why is it not being stopped? It has been said that it is insidious – like a cancer that grows within an organization. So, why is it allowed to continue? Why is it not being addressed?

  • by Supervisors/Managers in charge of people and teams.
  • by Bystanders who see it happening.
  • by those people who are targeted.
  • by Human Resource Managers and Organizational Leaders.

I recently spoke at The Workplace Violence Prevention Institute in Willingboro, NJ to address this bad behavioral topic. Human resources cannot acquiesce their essential role to stop the deliberate hurt that its taking an emotional and physical toll in our workplaces. After all, isn’t HR supposed to be advancing the human side of the enterprise? HR has the ability to enable and equip every person in the workplace (at all levels) with the tools and training to stop the bad behaviors that lead to violence. It is time to unlock that tool box!

My career was spent in Human Resources and Labor Relations – 34 years in large manufacturing sites for Du Pont (untangling People problems), and for the last 15 years I have been consulting in small and large companies as well as not-for-profit groups particularly around safety, effectiveness and employee engagement. what I know is this: unchecked back behaviors in our organizations and workplaces have spawned an epidemic of deepening dysfunction and Workplace Violence. Indeed, we have an epidemic of bad behaviors happening – yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Employees should not have to dread going to work because of hostile behaviors happening in the workplace. employers should not have to suffer loss in the business sense – yet effectiveness/productivity plummets with increasing dysfunction.

I’ve written this article to underscore that Human Resource managers cannot wash their hands of the responsibilities. Neither can other organizational Leaders. It is essential to ensure that workplaces do not become hostile environments. It is my sense that HR has many tools and remedies that they can use to thwart this slippery slope, if they choose to step up. If behaviors have already dipped to the cellar, HR still has the ability to re-set the standards and move forward with higher expectations, delivered via effective training and development processes. (Check out the Workplace Violence Prevention Institute’s endeavors to stop Workplace Violence.)

Bad behavior in the Workplace doesn’t start with bullying. Rather, the erosion starts when rudeness and incivility are not called out and stopped at the onset. The erosion continues when disrespect, snarking, invalidation and unprofessionalism are not called out and stopped in their tracks. Then, when bullying, (cyber-or otherwise), taunting, targeted horseplay and harassment are not quickly addressed or policies enforced, the dysfunction deepens further – and this invites even more degrees of violent behaviors into the mix – culminating in fistfights, vengefulness, mobbing and even homicide.

There is a Connection, a Continuum

The sad commentary is that ANY person in the Workplace, and especially supervisors and managers can and should stop bad behaviors in their tracks. Our workplaces do not have to become hostile environments. When they do become hostile, it is because Leadership has allowed this to happen. HR has the tools to intervene for the better. I’m reminded of one of Billy Joel’s song lyrics, “We didn’t start the fire… we didn’t light it… but now we have to fight it.” HR must step up.

Under the HR Umbrella:

Every business/organization needs to have a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Within that Program, HR is responsible for a host of interconnected components:

  • Keeping C-Suite and all levels of the organization on-board, actively engaged and monitoring progress.
  • Creating and enforcing a forward moving, effectiveness-raising Respectful, Healthy, Positive Workplace Policy
  • Knowing where you are: Organization Assessment, Critical Assessment
  • Conducting Comprehensive Training… including on Policy, how to thwart bad behaviors, handling complaints, creating top/down individualized responsibility commitments, and specialized training on Courage & Confidence, Holding Difficult Conversations, Leading Responsibly for Supervisors; EQ-capacity Assessments; Emotional Intelligence certifications.
  • Doing on-going and integrated, facilitated Workgroup Improvement Sessions that lift up the behavioral elephants so they can be addressed; and the work-group can be the best they can be (together).
  • Having top-notch recruitment and hiring, supervisory promotion procedures; avoid the “bad hire”; avoid the “bad supervisory promotion” by including the tools Emotional Intelligence offers, including EQ-behavioral-based interviewing. Separations from employment (terminations) conducted with respect, diligence, and full documentation

Note: “HR’s role is many faceted in preventing bad behaviors leading to workplace violence. Working with Security adds another dimension for proactively addressing how to handle protective orders, retaining security when involved with terminations, having security controls in place, etc. This paper, however, is intended to address key Communication, Training & Development pieces.

Points to Ponder

Why is the courage to stand up missing in our workplaces? Fear? Apathy? Just not knowing how? Why is managerial courage lacking to intervene when bad behavior and corrective action is sorely needed?

HR’s role: HR has a huge responsibility to teach the tenets of desirable Workplace Behaviors, to write and enforce the policies that are essential to human interaction in the workplace. And, HR has to ensure that people who have direct reports possess the necessary courage, support and wherewithal to stand up and be counted – even when it is difficult and unpopular. The entire line organization has to have clarity on, and be committed to eliminating bad behaviors in the workplace. It is the role of HR to get the C-Suite and line organization on board.


The Iceberg of Ignorance metaphor illustrates the gaps of “acknowledging what is happening” in the various levels of management – particularly regarding the bad behavior occurring in the depth of our workplaces.

Iceberg of Ignorance

HR’s role: HR managers need to be educating entire line organizations beginning with the C-Suite all the way to the lowest levels of the echelon. Excuses are hollow for feigning ignorance to the epidemic of bad behaviors that are occurring. HR’s role is to step up and close the gaps of ignorance. One of the ways to do this is to insist on creating a culture of engagement wherein all levels of the organization are held accountable. There are parallels among lack of engagement and apathy, low morale, and reduced productivity.


Why aren’t all Supervisors/Managers of people (at all levels) being fully trained and developed on how to muster essential courage, to hold the difficult conversations that are necessary to deal with everything from disrespect and incivility to deeper, dysfunctional workplace violence behaviors?

HR’s role: HR cannot acquiesce their responsibility over this critical void in our organizations. there are specific courage-and-confidence-building training programs available, and training that equips supervisors to hold the most difficult conversations while taking ownership for holding them. Supervisors need to be able to perform under pressure – holding the conversations of responsible leadership. they need to feel the support of top management in this work. People, who are in positions of having other people report to them, need to have this specific training and be held accountable to produce positive interpersonal outcomes. HR needs to ensure this critical training is provided.


Why aren’t higher levels of management ensuring/insisting that Supervisors below them step up to address the ugly behaviors that ultimately impact productivity and the bottom line?

HR’s role: HR has several roles: to educate the line organization on each level’s role in preventing bad behaviors in the workplace; to ensure the appropriate addressing of all bad behavior; to monitor consistent application of policies, and to make progress or lack of progress visible. Engagement by all levels of the organization is essential for reducing the risk of Workplace Violence and bad behaviors.


Just as in Safety Management, if you walk by an unsafe condition, doing nothing to correct it, then that becomes your acceptable standard. It applies to people management too. If you ignore incivility, disrespect, bullying, harassment, etc;, closing your eyes to it, essentially, you are saying that the behavior is okay. It becomes the standard you accept. The missing piece – which needs to be embedded in the responsiveness of supervisors/managers/team leaders is – Allowing behaviors to occur that hurt people is unacceptable; it must be stopped. (Period).

HR’s role: HR needs to underscore how people treatment standards are set, reinforced or eroded, depending on the supervisor’s appropriate or inappropriate response. Does HR insist that supervisors courageously lift up and address the undesirable behaviors, to maintain respect and civility in the workplace? do supervisors and team managers have the wherewithal to do this? If not, why do they remain in supervisory or managerial functions?


Why is HR not connecting the dots that lack of authentic engagement with people correlates to not knowing your people? And in turn, to the growth of bad behaviors, apathy among their people, and the risk of increasing workplace violence concerns.

HR’s role: to know how thorough the engagement of supervisors with their direct reports actually is, and to continue to teach how to engage and hold authentic conversations. Do Supervisors know/use models or frameworks to further their engagement? Does HR set the example, regularly getting out of their offices and fully engaging with the people in the workplace, regardless of where in the HR pyramid one sits [administrative, functional, strategic] or interfacing with the C-Suite?


Are all members of supervision being trained on being able to pick up the weak signals (bad behavioral cues) that are present among the people they supervise?

HR’s role: It is HR’s duty to teach supervision about weak signals and patterns of bad behavior, how to recognize them and how to address them. This is basic supervisory training and development. Equally important is teaching Supervisors how to look for signs of quiet retaliation against those who do step forward courageously. supervisors cannot fall silent; they must enforce the standard that the deliberate hurting of another employee – is unacceptable. Note: ~45% of EEOC complaints last year referenced retaliation. HR needs to make sure that Supervision understands the seriousness of such charges to the business/organization.


Are HR groups raising the bar by creating Respectful, Healthy, Positive-behavior Workplace policies that set higher standards for more humane workplaces?

HR’s role: HR must continually raise the level of Expectation round Workplace Behaviors and the necessity to Prevent Workplace Violence of all types and magnitude. This is done through positive policy upgrades, behavioral acceptance training, and work-group communication training for lifting up the elephants that are getting in their way of being the best they can be.


Are there Work-team constructive dialogs happening that allow teams to improve and develop the acceptable principles of behavior they can and will live by?

HR’s role: HR, along with Supervisors, must enable work-team involvement in a workable process/format for engaging around difficult situations, i.e., bad behaviors. It is up to HR to establish an integrated, ongoing constructive dialog process. HR additional must ensure that supervisors participate and are trained to lead on-going discussions. If this is not happening, why isn’t it? Organizational assessments are also important; integrated, on-going work-team involvement is key for lifting up the elephants that are getting in the way of teams and groups being the best they can be together. it is not a one-time shot; it is a long-term endeavor, an ongoing, integrated process.


To underscore this point: why is courage missing in our Team Leaders and Supervisors? They are the managers/leaders of people who are in the position to see and address the elephants that cause deliberate hurting via bad behaviors.

HR’s role: HR must teach supervisors how to specifically muster the courage they need to manage people and ensure bad behaviors are checked at the onset. HR needs to teach supervisors how to lift up the elephants in the room so that they can be appropriately addressed, and not allowed to fester. HR also needs to teach people how to support each other. Just as we have layers of safety responsibilities and support in managing safety, so must we have layers of management engaged in the support for managing people and expectations of civil behavior.


Are the specific roles of bullying (bully, target, bystander, bully assistant, etc.,) openly shared in work group training (by HR) and then specific training provided on various ways to stop bullying in its tracks? Have work-teams created their in-house mantra to collectively stop the bad behaviors among themselves – the effective words that call out the bad behavior?

HR’s role: HR needs to shine a light on the ways and words to prevent bullying. Example: Unwanted, unwelcomed, and repeated jibes = Unacceptable. Work-teams need to be facilitated by HR to develop their understanding of undesirable behaviors in the Workplace and how to thwart them. Work-teams can develop their single mantra to speak openly, without fearfulness, about the behavior that is happening in the moment – calling it for what it is – unacceptable. This type of training is best done hands-on; rather than via computer-based-learning.


Is HR using the tools of Emotional Intelligence to ensure that we do not hire the bad hire or that we do not promote into supervision the emotionally unhealthy bad supervisor? Are your interviewers skilled in EQ/behavior-based interviewing? Are the interviewers cognizant of attributes of emotionally unhealthy people?

HR’s role: More and More, it is becoming important that HR people be Emotionally Intelligence certified. HR needs to do all that it can to prevent making a bad hire so the potential use of EQ testing for hiring and promoting should be a consideration; EQ/behavioral based interviewing skills must be sharpened. HR must be clear on the costs of a bad hire and the negative impact on the organization’s culture.

Active Shooter a Microcosm of Our Society Impacting Workplace Safety and Security

Posted on: January 25th, 2017

Intro by Felix Nater…

In this article my Special Guest Blogger, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood, author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, and I collaborate to draw correlations between the threat of workplace homicides and the societal impact the active shooter and mass shooter has on everyone  no matter where we might find  ourselves.


Since we spend as much time at work as we do away from home, we believe whatever violence response training workplaces can provide must be as comprehensive and realistic as possible.

When workplaces make decisions to train on “Run, Hide and Fight” employers must understand that policies plans and procedures must be aligned. Can you tell an employee to fight as a measure of last resort when your workplace violence prevention policy says fighting or acts of aggression are against the policy?  This contradiction might freeze decisions and appropriate responses. Just saying!


When we tell the employee to run without proper training the employee might run into the shooter or while running away might be shot. Is there the possibility of creating unintentional civil liability consequences, which a skillful attorney might exploit during a civil lawsuit emanating from a serious injury or wrongful death allegation? I don’t know! What do you think?


It’s like “Zero Tolerance”–a well-intended policy but maybe too rigid and too structured. The employee who notices a co-worker exhibiting warning signs rationalizes his observations before reporting a co-worker knowing that his co-worker can be disciplined and even fired.


I do not encourage that workplaces undertake a frequency of an impractical training schedule on active shooter drills just because it is the right way to train. My point is that current training may not be addressing the workplace responsibilities or properly addressing the tactical common sense decisions needed to be taken.


What I do encourage is thoughtful training that realistically connects employee and management responsibilities and expectations. Training which fails to articulate what occurs in a real world shooting incident, and which only pushes out information, will assuredly produce more conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding, and increase risk for those involved.

Mike and I served in the military, where vital survival skills were reinforced through intensive,  repetitive training in order to make them more reflexive.  We understand that employers lack the time and resources to train to this standard, and it’s not realistic to expect that a workplace training program will build ” muscle memory” that makes responses automatic.

My law enforcement career as a United States Postal Inspector / Firearms Instructor and Threat Management Coordinator exposed me to realities typically encountered in the law enforcement community associated with serving search warrants, making arrests, car stops and training law enforcement personnel in scenarios they are most likely to encounter. Inherent in these scenarios are behaviors that must be understood and multiple simultaneous actions that must take place.


Well the same thing happens to employees or shoppers during a shooting incident. The “brain freezes” not intentionally but because there’s no stored information that the reflexes can draw upon. Fear overcomes the moment. There are tactics one can take to manage the moment that are not difficult to train to but can help the recovery process during the initial sounds of hysteria. When I audit this training I cringe at the lack of substance and correlation.


Suffice to say that we have expertise and specialized skills unlikely to be found in most workplaces. As such, training “employees” needs to create a training objective that allows employees to understand their actions, how to act out independently or in concert during the escape, evasion, evacuation procedures.


Because time, money and resources are limitations, training must bring clarity to what it is participants are most likely to encounter, what they need to “Know, Do and Why”. Absent clarity in the content presented will not improve survival and only add to the confusion.  There are tactics employees can take before encountering the shooter and encountering the police.


I am saying that training in active shooter / hostile intruder should be informative, enlightening, educational and realistic. To have real world value such training must empower the employee to know what to do and why, no matter where they may find themselves during an active shooting or mass shooting incident. If you are in a movie theater you know how to minimize risk. When caught in a mall or department store or open area know how to make better decisions.


* * * * *

Thoughts by Mike Wood…

The New Year had hardly begun when a terrorist killed scores in a shooting attack on an Istanbul nightclub, and we hadn’t even completed the first full month of 2017 when another shooter killed five and wounded more here in our own country, at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


While both of these attacks were horrific, neither was completely unexpected by those who were paying attention to the world around them.  We didn’t know the specifics of when and where the next “active shooter” attacks would take place, but we could be confident that they were on the way, in the same manner that we can predict there will be more to come.


We live in a world where the threats of attacks like these are ever-present.  Here in America, we have an increasingly violent criminal class which has become emboldened by failed public policies and the virulent anti-law enforcement culture which has taken hold in some communities.  Our mental healthcare system is broken, leaving untold numbers of emotionally disturbed persons, including many with violent tendencies, without access to proper care and supervision.  Additionally, there are a burgeoning number of foreign and domestic terrorists who would use violence to advance their political and cultural aims. In fact, our intelligence agencies have warned us that small-scale, asymmetric attacks like the Istanbul or Fort Lauderdale ones, are a preferred method of our enemy because they have a large impact while demanding very little in the way of resources or planning.


With all of these potential actors in play, it takes no imagination whatsoever to forecast that more attacks are coming.


So, what should you do about it?


The most important thing is to get your mind right. Accept the fact that it can happen to you. Doing so will help you to avoid the paralyzing effects of denial, and free your mind to solve important problems, should you find yourself subject to attack. Would you rather stand frozen in shock in the wake of an attack, or take immediate action to save yourself and others? The choice is yours to make, and it begins now with an acceptance of reality, and the appropriate programming of the mind.


Accepting that you could be the target of attack will allow you to change your behaviors in a positive and proactive way.  If you’re conscious of risk, then you’ll become more aware of your environment, and will do a better job of detecting and avoiding potential trouble. You’ll see the threats and indicators that people who walk around with their noses stuck to smart phone screens won’t, and you’ll have the time to avoid them. You’ll also do a better job of weighing costs and benefits, allowing you to avoid some unnecessary risks entirely, by opting out of the activities that would needlessly subject you to them.


Despite our best efforts to detect and avoid problems, trouble still has a way of finding us at times. In those cases, the more prepared we are to deal with trouble, the better off we will be.


From the perspective of mindset, we need to train ourselves that in an emergency (whether it’s a fire, a medical situation, or an attack), we will be active participants in our own rescue. If we are in danger, we must immediately take action to either remove ourselves from the threat, or terminate the threat, as conditions warrant. It would be nice to have help with this, but we cannot count on it, and we cannot delay our response until we receive it.  There is nobody who is more responsible for your personal safety than you, so you must take the lead role in rescuing yourself from danger.


Make that commitment now.  Train yourself to look for avenues of escape when you enter a room. Refresh yourself with the locations of alarms or emergency equipment in your workplace. Make mental notes of the things in your environment that could serve as cover, concealment, or makeshift weapons. Give yourself the permission to use righteous force in the defense of yourself or others. Mentally rehearse your response to an active threat. Take classes to educate yourself in first aid and self-defense, and ensure you have access to lifesaving equipment.


Do these things now, while you have the time and resources.  We know that more trouble is on the way, so the only question is whether or not you’ll be a victor or a victim when it comes.




Workplace Violence Prevention in the Age of the ‘Active Shooter’ Webinar: January 21, 2016

Posted on: January 15th, 2016


DECEMBER 11, 2015

The tragic mass shootings in Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino, in three successive weeks, have had global reverberations.  They have also left employers grappling with questions as to what measures they should take—or are legally obligated to take—to keep employees safe from harm in the workplace.  A recurring question posed over the last three weeks has been “should we conduct active shooter training?”

While the confluence of these three incidents has caused many to panic, mass shootings are sadly nothing new.  The New York Times reported that there were 10 prior deadly rampages since 2012, with the number of deaths ranging from six to 26 people, and the number of wounded far greater.1  A 2012 survey identified at least 73 mass shootings in the United States in the last three decades.2  However, given the size of the United States, the odds of being the victim of a workplace shooting are statistically low.3  Thus, while employers should take prudent measures to protect workplaces, employers should not overreact or impose drastic measures that are disproportionate to the actual risk, are unnecessarily costly, or are likely to be ineffective.


Under the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), all employers have a general duty to provide a safe workplace for employees, free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.4

Although a few states have imposed specific obligations on a small segment of employers in particular industries, the vast majority of workplaces are governed only by the OSHA “general duty clause.”

As demonstrated by the spate of mass shootings, some believed to be acts of terrorism, it is not possible to prevent all acts of violence that may affect employees.  Nonetheless, in an effort to reduce risk and prevent undesirable occurrences, employers should have policies and practices in place to increase awareness and reporting of actual or potential incidents of workplace violence.

Workplace violence encompasses any conduct that is sufficiently severe, offensive or intimidating as to cause an employee to reasonably fear for his/her personal safety or the safety of his/her family, friends and/or property, such that employment conditions are altered or a hostile, abusive or intimidating work environment is created.  This includes actual acts of violence such as shooting, hitting and other forms of physical abuse, as well as threats of violence, including surveillance and stalking. While some instances of workplace violence are committed by employees, many are perpetrated by outsiders such as family members, spouses or partners, clients or strangers.

And while many think of workplace violence as threatening conduct that only occurs in the workplace setting, workplace violence is actually much broader and also encompasses behavior that occurs outside the work premises—if the company determines that the incident may lead to an occurrence of violence at the company’s work site. This may include violent conduct or threats of violence by one company employee against another (such as an employee making threatening phone calls, sending menacing e-mails to a co-worker’s home, or brandishing a weapon in the workplace), and threats or acts of violence occurring off the company’s premises involving an employee of the company as a victim (such as a threat of violence by an estranged spouse or disgruntled customer).

Recommendations for Preventing Workplace Violence

Although three mass shootings in the same number of weeks could make it appear as though there has been a drastic increase in incidents of violence in workplaces and public places (which are also the workplaces of many), employers should not overreact.  As stated above, there has been a steady stream of mass shootings and other violent acts in the workplace for decades, and yet such tragedies are statistically rare. Nonetheless, there are measured, time-tested steps that employers should take to increase awareness of, and consequently improve chances of preventing, violence in the workplace.

Employers are well-advised to adopt a “zero tolerance” workplace violence policy and to disseminate such policy to all employees. Key elements of such a policy include a statement of the company’s commitment to maintaining a safe working environment free from violence and intimidation; a definition of workplace violence and illustrative examples; a description of the types of objects that will be deemed prohibited weapons; a statement encouraging employees to report any such behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable; the company’s reporting procedure, which should include alternative persons to whom such behavior can be reported; the company’s commitment to investigate promptly all reports of suspicious behavior and threats of violence; the company’s discretion to implement the program in keeping with its commitment to maintaining a safe workplace; and the potential consequences should an employee be found to have engaged in behavior in violation of such policy.  The mantra “if you see something, say something” will yield results if employees know that they can come forward and have their concerns promptly addressed, without fear of retribution.  Many employers also choose to address domestic violence in the company’s workplace violence policy. The workplace violence policy should be distributed in the same manner as the company’s other important policies, such as equal employment opportunity and harassment avoidance.  Like the equal employment opportunity and harassment policies, the workplace violence policy should be regularly reviewed with employees.

To further reinforce the company’s zero-tolerance workplace violence policy, a company may wish to conduct periodic training of employees on how to spot potential workplace violence and take the appropriate action when confronted with a potentially violent or harassing situation. Much as a fire drill alerts employees to the steps they need to take in the event of a fire, live or computer-based workplace violence prevention training programs tend to reinforce employees’ awareness of possible signs of workplace violence and the steps they should take when confronted with actual or threatened violent conduct.

As part of its workplace violence prevention program, each company should designate a management response team (MRT) to act as the frontline response to any occurrences or threats of violence in the workplace. Depending on the employer’s size and organizational structure, the MRT might include representatives of senior management, human resources, security, and in-house legal counsel. An MRT might also include outside representatives such as threat assessment professionals, local law enforcement authorities, risk management professionals, and outside counsel. The MRT should develop an emergency response plan that anticipates how the employer will deal with an incident of workplace violence—including securing the workplace, contacting law enforcement, informing employees of the danger by alarms, emails, or text messages, notifying families during and after an incident, dealing with media, and responding with any necessary crisis counseling and other measures in the aftermath of an incident.

In addition to developing and implementing a workplace violence program and designating an MRT, companies are also well-advised to conduct a comprehensive safety and security audit to identify and correct any gaps in security or possible unsafe conditions, such as malfunctioning security systems, broken locks, multiple sites of access, and poor lighting.  Installation of deadbolts on doors could be an inexpensive precaution that may save many lives in the event of an attack.  Creating “safe rooms” is an option that companies are considering with increasing frequency; these can involve great expense and it is recommended that a company with experience in design be consulted. Many companies conduct safety audits internally, often led by security or facilities departments; other companies engage the services of private security companies.  As part of this safety initiative, employers should consider partnering with their local police departments; many precincts have community affairs officers available to assist. Indeed, in some municipalities, the police may offer security consultations as part of their community service initiatives.

To avoid the confusion evidenced in recent catastrophes, where employers were uncertain as to which employees were in the building at the time of an incident of violence, it may be advisable for companies to adopt a sign in/sign out system each time an employee enters and leaves the building.  Employers should also require employees to update their personal information and emergency contact information at least annually, in the event that an emergency were to occur.

Finally, many companies try to avoid issues potentially associated with hiring violent employees by conducting background checks.  However, while criminal background checks may provide invaluable information regarding whether an applicant is at risk of engaging in violent behavior in the workplace, employers must be mindful of applicable legal constraints under various federal, state and local laws.  Pursuant to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, an employer that enlists a third-party to perform background checks on a prospective (or current) employee, which the employer may use in connection with employment-related decisions, generally must provide prior notice to such person and obtain his/her consent. In addition, prior to taking any adverse action against such applicant (or employee) based on the results of a background check (including a decision to not hire or to terminate such individual), the employer must provide the person with a copy of the background check report and a summary of rights under applicable law.  Employers also should be mindful that Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes the position that the use of criminal background checks may result in adverse impact liability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Further, some states have enacted laws limiting employer use of conviction or arrest records, and others have adopted so-called “ban the box” statutes prohibiting the employer from asking questions about conviction or arrest records until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended.  Certain state laws have imposed detailed restrictions that must be followed to legally prohibit weapons in the workplace.  An employer must therefore ensure that any action taken with respect to an applicant or current employee, or even when implementing new policies and procedures, does not run afoul of applicable law.

Active Shooter Training

The recent mass shootings and acts of terrorism have prompted many employers to inquire as to whether they are legally required to—and if not, whether they should—conduct active shooter training.  Before rushing into this, employers should be mindful of certain considerations.

There is no general legal requirement that an employer conduct active shooter training.  In general, employers are not security experts and lack the training and expertise to direct employees as to how to react when confronted with a gun in the workplace. Rather, it is only law enforcement officials and other government authorities who should be giving such directives.  The potential consequences of a misstep can be both dangerous and costly.  For example, if an employer advised employees during a training drill to run if ever confronted with an active shooter, and an employee is shot in the back while running from an assailant as directed, the employer could face possible liability on top of other tragic circumstances.

For employers who decide that they want to offer some type of emergency training as part of their workplace violence prevention program, there are a number of options.  An increasing number of police departments offer active shooter and other such training, free of charge, to employers.  The Department of Homeland Security has a wealth of resources offered to the public, including several excellent short training videos.  One, entitled “Run, Hide, Fight,” uses actors to depict an active shooter in the workplace, while the narrator gives instructions regarding the best course of action for particular employees depending upon their location. An employer who chooses to incorporate one of these videos into its regular workplace violence training is well-advised to make it clear to employees that the recommendations are those of the Department of Homeland Security.

There are also a number of private companies that offer drills and other training to employees on how to react when faced with a shooter or other dangerous emergency situations.  Employers should carefully vet the qualifications, training and references of such companies, and ensure that they carry adequate insurance in the event that any participant is injured. Proponents of such training believe that, like fire drills, having participants walk and talk through simulated situations creates innate responses when faced with an actual situation, which could save lives when instant reaction is critical.  For example, during these exercises, emergency evacuation routes are identified and employees practice getting to them.  These drills could also offer life-saving tips, such as making employees aware that certain rooms are always locked and that running to them could waste valuable time and result in an employee being trapped when unable to enter.  Other drills using actors posing as shooters could force employees to decide, in a moment of panic, whether the best course of action is to run or to shelter in place, following which trainers can critique their actions in the safety of a classroom setting.  Like any other emergency training, however, repeated training or refresher courses on a periodic basis would produce the best chance of retention.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent incidents of workplace violence entirely. However, by implementing comprehensive procedures, educating employees on the necessity of recognizing and reporting threatening, suspicious or otherwise troubling conduct, and taking other preventive measures as outlined above, an employer is in a better position to recognize, confront and perhaps eliminate some of the risk of workplace violence.

1 Associated Press, California Attack is latest in String of US Mass Shootings, New York Times, Dec. 2, 2015,

2 Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan, A Guide to Mass Shootings in America, Mother Jones, July 20, 2012,

3 U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Workplace Violence – Issues in Response, p. 12, prepared by Critical Incident Response Group National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (2002).

4 See 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1) (requiring each employer to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”).

On January 21, 2016 at 3:00 EST/2:00 CST/12:00 PST, Littler will host a webinar titled “Workplace Violence Prevention in the Age of the ‘Active Shooter’.”  Registration information will follow.


Workplace Violence Prevention Starts with The Recognition of the Aggression Behaviors and Managing The Outcome…

Posted on: July 11th, 2015

In this Blog I ask John Byrnes, CEO of Aggression Management to draw an important correlation between management commitment in understanding the need to invest in an appropriate prevention strategy and training tactics that deliver results. Such prevention strategy must include quality training for supervisors and employees on recognizing at risk employees and situations.

“It is irrational to believe that employee engagement campaigns can effectively be administered from the bottom up. Yet, workplace violence prevention tends to be a bottom up effort that eventually loses momentum because it lacks senior management commitment.”

True workplace violence prevention takes place when senior management understands the commitment and needed investment in quality training and procedures that give employees skills.

“Workplace Violence Prevention is not the publication of policies that are managed in silos but a collaborative effort that promotes quality prevention strategy and training that helps identifies aggression before it escalates to physical violence.”

For years employers and their management have assumed there was some connection between Nonfatal Acts of violence and violence itself. As the highly respected security professional, Felix Nater, CSC has pointed out in his article, “New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns…What Are You Doing About It?”

“The unknown impact of nonfatal, non-violent incidents committed by nonviolent employees are cause for concern among supervisors, managers and human resources professionals who contend with them on a daily basis. Harassment, bullying, sabotage to systems and operations, product contamination, theft of sensitive information, compromise of proprietary information, theft of services, identity theft, work slowdown etc., etc., contribute to diminished productivity and performance and increased stress.” Felix continues with, “Acts of defiance by non-violent people are as disruptive as the more serious “assaultive” conduct that leads to injury and even death. Such behavior gives rise for concern in our workplaces from groups who might resort to non-violent act of retaliation as described above. Do not make the assumptions in dealing with the threat of workplace violence. Defiance is a safe way for this type of offender to exact his or her vengeance without causing physical harm to people and yet get even. Disgruntled employees in particular take out their frustration in very unique ways simply because they have access to workplaces and vulnerable areas. When it comes to justification and rationale, imagination runs the gamut in terms of creative misconduct and reasoning.”

What is the connection between “Acts of defiance by disgruntled employees,” customers and visitors and the threat of violence that these employees, customers and visitors to often exact on our workplaces? We are told by professionals that we must “connect the dots!” But this is too often a question asked in retrospect; this is an after effect accounting, not prevention! If we are to prevent violent and non-violent activities, we must foresee the precursors (get out in front of violence and non-violent acts,) if we actually want to prevent violent or non-violent behavior. Let me show you how!

Twenty-one years ago, we developed our now scientifically validated Aggression Continuum, a progressive scale which chronicles aggressive behavior from its outset/beginnings through to include the most lethal of all aggressors, the perpetrator of murder/suicide. We also discovered two types of aggressive behavior, Primal and Cognitive. Primal is adrenaline-driven aggression and Cognitive is intent-driven aggression. We combined these two types of aggression and created the Primal and Cognitive Aggression Continua; once done, all of the body language, behavior and communication indicators that have been known since the beginning of human interaction, all became objective and empirical, leading to scientific-validation. The Primal (adrenaline-driven) Aggression Continuum represents an individual “losing control” due to the effects of adrenaline. What about conscious deliberate aggression, it doesn’t fit in the Primal Aggression Continuum? This is why we developed the Cognitive (intent-driven) Aggression Continuum.

Can we actually predict who is escalating toward violence, and if so, how? Predicated upon the acclaimed and seminal Safe School Initiative Study, a collaborative effort conducted by US Secret Service, the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Justice; which states, “An inquiry should focus … on the student’s behaviors and communication to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.”

“The ultimate question to answer …. is whether a student is on a path to a violent attack …” Finally, on December 16, 2013, this is further confirmed by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Center’s Chief, Andre Simmons, who states their ability to prevent violence is predicated on identifying a person who is “on a pathway to violence.”

What we discovered 21 years ago, the FBI is now affirming. We prefer the phrase “emerging aggression” over identifying someone “on the path to violence” because the latter only identifies someone when you can reliably see the potential of violence, whereas, “emerging aggression” identifies someone at the very outset/beginnings of “aggressive behavior.” This gives us the ability to prevent lower levels (stages) of aggression, like “bullying,” “sabotage,” “conflict” and “discrimination.” It also offers us a better method of truly getting out in front of violence well before the aggressors’ intentions become violence. Not only can we identify someone on the path to violence but to Felix Nater’s point, we can identify “aggressive behavior” well before most even realize that behavior is “aggressive.”

Let me offer an example of what is “aggressive behavior” but too often is not seen as such! There are Nine Stages of Cognitive Aggression, at Fourth Stage, an aggressor is not yet prepared to go face-to-face with their victim, they work behind the scenes to undermine the relationship the victim has with their own community (those people the victim likes, loves and respects and with whom they wish to be liked, loved and respected in return).

“We observe what we call, “Planting the seed of distrust;” this is a behavior that permeates all organizations.”

This aggressor turns to the victim’s community and says, “I don’t know about Jane anymore, I just don’t know if I can trust her anymore!” This insidious seed (malicious intent) will grow like weeds in a garden; because partial truth can be far more detrimental than complete truth! This aggressive behavior also undermines “trust,” a key ingredient in Teamwork, Leadership and Loyalty. The revelations made by Felix are emphasized here. Lower levels of aggressive behavior are not only reflective of the potential of violence to come, but also undermine productivity and profitability. Employers who actively identify emerging aggression, will not only make their workplaces reliably “as safe as possible,” the highest form of Evidence-based Best Practices, but will enhance productivity, profitability, teamwork, leadership and loyalty.

“After 21 years of implementation, we have come to realize that as more employees understand that they are being overtly or covertly aggressive, they will typically move away from their aggressive behavior.”

We have seen employee cultures become far more productive as employees learn how to identify, engage and prevent, not only violence but aggressive behavior that precede violence.

As Felix Nater points out in his article, if you believe you have a Workplace Violence “Prevention” program, think again. You must start identifying aggressive behavior (Harassment, bullying, sabotage and, yes, even planting the seed of distrust) prior to violence and non-violent behavior, so as to prevent them. The only way to achieve reliable Workplace Violence “Prevention,” as well as harassment, bullying and sabotage behavior is to implement our scientifically validated Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS)!

If you would like to know more about CAPS, go to

Corroborating Workplace Bullying Complaints Through Documentation

Posted on: February 21st, 2015

In this Blog, Ruth and Phil MacNeill of PRMAC Consulting and Research share their perspective on corroborating workplace bullying complaints through documentation.  While the MacNeill’s focus is on the employee rather than the employer, and workplace bullying rather than violence, we share the common goals of promoting safer, healthier and more productive work environments. Reporting and documentation are inseparable partners

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time a tremendous whack.Winston Churchill

Workplace bullying can have serious negative impacts on individuals and on companies, and is all too common. The Workplace Bullying Institute estimates that up to one-third of workers may be victims of workplace bullying, with about 20 of incidents crossing the line into harassment. If left unchecked, reduced productivity, chronic absenteeism and the possibility of expensive litigation are just a few of the costs of bullying. Therefore, rationale self-interest is a valid prompt for supporting a respectful work environment, whether your role is employer, supervisor, or employee.

But stopping workplace bullying is easier said than done as the devil is in the details. Only by  meticulously documenting bullying incidents as they occur, can there be any reasonable expectation that an ensuing investigation will lead to a successful resolution.

Consider the task of an investigator who has to establish facts in order to fairly assess the alleged bullying situation. It’s safe to assume they know nothing of your character or background, but even if they do, any fair determination must be based on an impartial rendering of facts. The same applies to a review by a judge and a court of law, should a complaint escalate to litigation. So, what do either need to establish what the facts are in order to perform their analysis?

Written and/or verbal accounts of the event(s} are an essential part of an investigation because they provide perspective and leads. However, multiple perspectives on the same incident can be contradictory and ambiguous because of personal bias and even fabrications by those involved. So, without tangible proof, a complaint often remains an “alleged incident” due to insufficient evidence.

Evidence that can stand up under scrutiny must be accurately detailed and presented in a way that supports an investigator or a judge and a court of law reaching a thorough and accurate understanding.

Documentation is composed of material that provides official information or evidence, and serves as a legal record. Ideally, every incident needs to be documented with other supporting documents, if these are available. Documentation establishes facts and may also reveal a pattern of bullying behavior. It may be noticed as you document that each incident alone may not add up to the the “bomb” but bullies are often a stone in your shoe and the documenting of many incidents will uncover their intent.

Therefore it is in your best interest to keep an organized record.

When you are designing your documentation matrix, it should contain this detailed information:

  1. The date and time of each incident.
  2. The location of each incident.
  3. Who was involved in each incident? Include the names of the bully or bullies, as well as witnesses.
    Note: Although bystanders may not feel that they are involved, they are
    automatically drawn in as a part of the scenario as witnesses.
  4. A description of each incident in detail including the exact nature of the actions. Try to include
    quotes and don’t censor profanity and expletives. Indicate how these actions made you feel and
    how it impacted your work.
  5. Supporting documentation: Be thorough, as each incident, even small ones, can map a pattern
    of repeated bullying. Attach each supporting document as an appendix to the record of the
    incident and be sure to cross-reference the appendices with the incident to ensure the accuracy
    and readability of your evidence. In addition to hard copies, keep the electronic files, as these
    provide a date signature. Some examples of supporting documentation include:
  6. Communications such as emails, notes, letters and cyber postings.
  7. A transcript of each offending voice mail.
  8. Photographs of any acts of vandalism.
  9. Try to obtain written statements from anyone who witnessed the harassment. Their written
    description of an incident will help validate your complaint.

Make two copies of all documentation and store them in secure and separate places. Don’t keep the evidence at work or you may find it missing. Similarly, if you are fired, you may not otherwise have access to it. If you keep at least one electronic copy of the documentation, this will electronically date the document(s).

While the above doesn’t guarantee an investigation will necessarily swing a decision in your favour, the stronger your evidence base, the closer you will come to aligning with Winston Churchill’s prescription for making your important point.

The OSHA General Duty Clause and Workplace Violence Prevention

Posted on: February 4th, 2015

In this Blog Dr. Mike (Mike Atwater, Ph.D)  shares a perspective on the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause and workplace violence prevention. He and Felix collaborate in a small way to help keep the dialogue going in bridging the gap of awareness and responsibility.

“We recognize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and invoke the need to be proactive rather reactive” in containing all costs.

The effort put forth in investing in “prevention” can enhance the outcome and reduce the negative impact of poor planning.  While we are not suggesting that using other people’s data is representative of what can happen at your workplace (school, college, university or healthcare setting), it is our desire to create urgency in understanding the impact to your workplace and workforce your employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers. According to OSHA’s fact sheet,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. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide. Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Furthermore, domestic violence is the number one cause for emergency room visits by women in the United States, causing more injuries to women than car accidents, muggings, and rapes. Like other forms of violence, domestic violence may spill over into the workplace in various ways. Of all employed battered women, 96 percent experience problems at work and 75 percent must use work time to deal with their situation because they cannot do so at home.

“As a licensed clinical psychologist practicing for over 30 years in Florida”, Dr. Mike has worked with numerous clients to help them recover from workplace violence and/or spillover domestic violence. These clients can suffer a variety of consequences and mental health issues in addition to any possible physical injuries, including:

  • Short- and long-term psychological trauma
  • Fear of returning to work
  • Changes in relationships with coworkers and family
  • Feelings of incompetence, guilt, powerlessness
  • Fear of criticism by supervisors or managers

Because each case will present with varying degrees of problems, Dr. Mike draws upon a multi-disciplinary counseling approach to reduce the acute psychological trauma and general stress levels. With all, a major goal is to help them return to meaningful work and for the employer to have a healthy worker as well. While Dr. Mike does not have expertise in the regulations and programs needed to provide for safe workplaces, Dr. Mike does know employers must be proactively responsible to educate staff about workplace violence and to positively influence the workplace and organizational cultural norms in order to reduce the possibility of incidents.

Why Every Employer Should Take Domestic Violence Seriously

Posted on: September 11th, 2014

The following is a post by one of our guest writers, Nancy Salamone, founder and CEO of The Business of Me

Domestic Violence Goes To Work

When a victim of domestic violence is employed – domestic violence goes to work and every employer pays the price. Yet at least 70% of employers do not have policies or procedures in place to address this serious workplace violence issue.

Many employers believe that domestic violence is a private family matter – it is not. Domestic violence affects the safety and security all employees. Employers who do not take this workplace violence issue seriously put the lives of all employees at risk and expose the company to major liability claims.

If you set aside the altruistic reasons to help employees who are victims of domestic violence here are some of the actual ways it affects your bottom line.

Lost productivity

The cost of domestic violence in the U.S. is estimated to be $8.3 billion each year (based on a study done in 2004 and to my knowledge has never been updated) most of which is borne by U.S. employers. That $8.3 billion today is still widely reported as the entire cost of domestic violence in our society. But how is that possible when the cost to businesses in the U.K. in lost productivity alone is £12 billion (in U.S. dollars $19,604,243) a year? Let’s look at some facts:

The U.S. working population is approximately 5 times that of the U.K. so it does not make sense that the cost of domestic violence in the U.S. is so much less than the U.K. The £12 billion reflects only lost productivity while the $8.3 billion includes medical care, mental health services AND lost productivity.

Increased Medical Cost

The health care costs of domestic violence, most of which is borne by the employer, are extremely high, with direct medical and mental health care services for victims over $4 billion dollars annually.