By Jennifer Shorb Hagerman

While there are steps that employers can take, workplace violence is a complex and difficult issue. According to OSHA, workplace violence encompasses not only deadly attacks by employees (or former employees) like the one in Southaven, but also threats, verbal abuse, intimidation and physical assaults. Using OSHA’s definition of workplace violence, approximately 2 million American workers report being victims of such conduct each year.

In examining possible measures to address workplace violence, an employer must place primary focus on the nature of its business. For example, a retail or healthcare business has a much higher risk of potential workplace violence than an office-based business. Accordingly, retail and healthcare employers should consider a heavier emphasis on physical security measures such as access control systems, video cameras and even security guards. Employers should also consider any applicable state laws, such as Tennessee’s “guns in trunks law,” which creates an exception to the ability of Tennessee employers to prohibit the possession of firearms on employer premises generally by permitting the holder of a valid handgun carry permit to keep firearms locked in the truck of a vehicle in a private parking lot, including an employer’s parking lot.

The following is a list of measures that most employers should consider when evaluating how to prevent workplace violence.

  • Conduct an analysis of the physical workplace and assess risk factors such as points of entry and exit, access control measures, and current surveillance systems.
  • Assess hiring and retention practices, such as criminal background checks (depending on nature of business/position), gaps or missing information on a candidate’s application, and reference checks, including whether the employee is eligible for rehire.
  • Consider implementing a workplace violence policy, including a ban on firearms in the workplace (with the exception of guns in trunks as discussed above and other applicable state laws).
  • Create (or conduct regular training on) an action plan for reacting to and communicating with employees in the unlikely event of a security emergency.
  • Foster a supportive environment and ensure that employees feel heard and comfortable reporting any concerns.

While workplace violence probably cannot be completely prevented, employers can take steps to reduce the risks. In addition, taking steps to address workplace violence may also reduce potential injuries and liability if an incident does occur.

If you have questions about workplace violence policies or implementing any of these steps in your workplace, the Burch Porter & Johnson Employment team would be glad to assist.