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Risk in Context

Hiring and Firing Practices Can Help Protect Employees From Workplace Violence

Posted by Chandra Seymour May 06, 2016

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may cite employers for hazards associated with increased workplace violence risk, it surprisingly doesn’t require employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs. A recently released US Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on workplace violence in health care has recommended that OSHA “assist inspectors in developing citations, develop a policy for following up on hazard alert letters concerning workplace violence hazards in health care facilities, and assess its current efforts.”  

OSHA has agreed with GAO's recommendations and plans to act to address them. However, health care is not the only industry facing workplace violence, and potential new standards could have broad application.

But while the debate about new standards develops, there are steps that your organization can take now to mitigate workplace violence. An area to address is to examine your hiring, performance, and dismissal policies, beginning with these three key steps:

  1. Review your hiring process: One of the most important workplace violence prevention strategies is to avoid hiring potentially violent employees in the first place. A candidate’s social skills should be a prime criterion, as should their histories. Past behavior can be an accurate indicator of future actions, so comprehensive background checks are a must.
  2. Monitor job performance: Once you hire a candidate, monitor job performance, and provide frequent and constructive feedback. Pinpointing performance issues early and removing problem employees before they become emotionally attached to the job may prevent future issues.
  3. Watch for behavioral red flags: According to OSHA, the following can be indicators of an employee’s increased likelihood of committing workplace violence:
  • Overt or implied threats.
  • Sudden, persistent complaining about unfair treatment.
  • Blaming others for problems.
  • Change in behavior or decline in work performance.
  • Increase in absenteeism.
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene.
  • Refusal to accept criticism about work performance.
  • Inability to manage feelings, such as swearing or slamming doors.

Other behavioral issues that may presage later violence include a history of substance abuse, compromised coping skills, or mental health issues. However, among the most common triggers of violent actions is personal rejection, such as a breakup or termination of employment. Therefore, when employees are terminated, ensure supervisors are respectful of their dignity and help them to cope with the disappointment.

Workplace violence cannot be eradicated, but there are concrete steps you can take to mitigate it. At the same time, it’s important to keep an eye on developing regulations, such as those being considered by OSHA.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Chandra Seymour

Senior Vice President, MRC Reputational Risk and Crisis Management