Daddy’s Home 2—fisticuffs in the workplace

November 28, 2017 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

While the holiday season can be a time of great joy and celebration, it also can be loaded with stress. Indeed, the pressures of preparing for the holiday and spending an inordinate amount of time in close quarters with friends and familyBusinessman trying to resist huge male fist and move it can bring long-simmering feuds and frustrations to the surface. This concept is handled with humor and heart in Daddy’s Home 2. Unfortunately, as the film illustrates, such private squabbles can sometimes spill over into public places including the workplace, which is yet another reason for employers to be well-versed on conflict resolution tactics and workplace violence issues.

The second film picks up where the first left offwith our characters navigating the sometimes tricky terrain of forming a modern, blended family. Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) seem to have figured out how to work together in their respective roles of stepfather and father to raise the kids they both love dearly. However, when Brad’s hyper-affectionate, beloved father (played by John Lithgow) and Dusty’s estranged, hyper-masculine and emotionally distant father (played by Mel Gibson) come to town to celebrate Christmas, it’s a recipe for jealousies and conflicts.

When severe winter weather leaves our characters stranded in a movie theater with countless others, the tensions come to a head with theater employees looking on as certain family members attempt to duke out their differences. While the scene makes for an amusing holiday spectacle on the big screen, it also illustrates how quickly tensions can escalate and  employers (particularly those regularly dealing with the public in their day-to-day operations) may find themselves dealing with the unexpected. Indeed, nearly two million Americans each year report having been victims of workplace violence. Here are five employer tips for dealing with workplace conflicts:

1. Establish policies and complaint procedures for dealing with conflicts between employees and those involving any members of the public who may come into the workplace.

2. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly recommends that employers establish a zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. Employees should know the policy and understand that any workplace violence complaints will be investigated and remedied promptly.

3. Early intervention is key. Train employees on the policies and advise them to report potential issues to management and/or human resources early and before any conflicts have an opportunity to escalate.

4. Assess the workplace to identify methods for reducing the likelihood of an incident occurring, and establish a plan in the event that an emergency situation arises. Consider OSHA-recognized risk factors such as whether employees exchange money with the public, work with potentially unstable individuals, work alone or in isolated areas, work where alcohol is served, or work late at night or in high-crime areas.

5.  Establish a workplace violence prevention program. OSHA provides guidance on establishing such a program as well as various online training and other resources.

The bottom line is that employers have a duty to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards. It’s important to have the necessary policies and procedures in place to deal with potential emergencies, including workplace violence issues. With that said, we wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Harvey Weinstein: beauty and the beastly mogul

October 12, 2017 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Over the last week, the fallout from a New York Times article regarding Harvey Weinstein has been swift and significant. On October 5, the Times published an explosive story about Hollywood producer and media mogul Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment spanning decades. More and more women have been coming forward since the story broke to accuse Weinstein of unwelcome sexual advances and sexual assault during his time at Miramax and the Weinstein Company. The Times quoted Weinstein as stating, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know that I have a long way to go.”  Stop Sexual Harassment red stop sign held by a female

According to the Times, Weinstein has reached settlements with at least eight women over the years, and his former attorney, Lisa Bloom, has described him as “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” The growing list of allegations stands in stark contrast against Weinstein’s public image as a liberal, humanitarian, and champion of women. The Times quoted Ashley Judd as saying, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

Since the story first broke, the Weinstein Company has terminated Weinstein’s employment, board members and legal advisers have resigned, and Weinstein’s wife has announced she is leaving him. Meanwhile, the accusations have continued to mount. Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Cara Delevingne have come forward with additional allegations of sexual harassment. The New Yorker also published a story alleging that Weinstein has raped several women over the years.

Weinstein is reportedly entering a treatment program for sex addiction and has denied any accusations of nonconsensual sex. From former temporary employees to Hollywood A-listers, the accusers’ accounts have a similar narrative: young women hoping to find success in the industry but instead facing unwanted sexual advances from a top power player promoting a culture of fear. It sounds like a Hollywood film plot in the vein of 9 to 5, but this is far more serious and with real-life consequences.

Best practices for employers

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law that prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, though there are many state and local laws prohibiting the same. To maintain a sexual harassment claim, the plaintiff must generally establish that he/she was harassed based on sex, the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment, and there is some basis for holding the employer liable.

If the harassment is perpetrated by a supervisor but does not culminate in a tangible employment action, a defending employer may avoid liability if it proves the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities.

Best practices for employers to maintain healthy working environments and prevent harassment and discrimination from invading the workplace include:

  • Implementing strong policies prohibiting discrimination, outlining various avenues for employees to complain (taking into account the possibility that complaints may be against the person at the top of the chain of command), and prohibiting retaliation;
  • Training employees on the available avenues for complaints;
  • Training supervisors and managers on how to respond to a complaint;
  • Immediately investigating complaints; and
  • Taking prompt corrective action when complaints are substantiated.

Bottom line. Employers must practice commitment, communication, and credibility. It is their responsibility to ensure that potential complainants understand they will not be subjected to retaliation, the complaints will be taken seriously and investigated appropriately (regardless of the position of the accused harasser), and they have nothing to fear from using the complaint procedure. Let us know your thoughts on this developing story in the comments below.

Solar eclipse guide for employers

August 21, 2017 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Today’s solar eclipse is expected to be an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with people from all over flocking to the path of totality.  While this will likely mean considerable economic benefits from tourism, it is also expected to be quite costly for employers.  According to an estimate by outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, this afternoon’s celestial show will cost employers a staggering $694 million due to reduced productivity.  Employers in the path of totality are expected to be hit especially hard.

With the eclipse happening on a regular work day and with schools closing in anticipation of the event, employers can expect an unusually high number of employee absences today.  For those employees showing up as scheduled, Solar eclipseemployers can still expect a dip in productivity while the eclipse is happening.  There is a silver lining, as the eclipse gives employers the opportunity for team-building and morale boosting events in celebration.  Here are a few employers tips for today’s eclipse:

1.  Consider embracing today’s event and having a voluntary eclipse viewing party for employees.

2.  Remind employees to use proper safety eyewear for viewing the eclipse at any employer function.

3.  Remind employees to be cautious about any viewing glasses they purchased on their own, given the number of scams reported.  If the glasses are employer-provided, ensure they are properly certified.

4.  For those employers with employees outdoors for work or work-sponsored events, consider any necessary safety precautions to prevent accidents caused by the reduction in light during totality, distraction, etc.

5.  Consult your legal counsel and insurance providers about on any potential liability for injuries during employer-sponsored eclipse activities.

In a few short hours, we can expect the skies to darken, the stars to twinkle, the animals to go into their nighttime routines, and a record number of camera snaps.  Whatever your plans today, we wish you a safe and happy solar eclipse experience.

Stuntman’s death on ‘The Walking Dead’ set a sad reminder of common workplace hazards

July 18, 2017 - by: Marilyn Moran 0 COMMENTS
Marilyn Moran

Tragically, stuntman John Bernecker died last week in Atlanta after falling 30 feet to a concrete floor while working on a fight scene for AMC’s zombie-apocalypse series “The Walking Dead.” In response, the show temporarily halted production of its eighth season, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation.  Safety Always

According to OSHA, more than 4,500 workers are killed on the job every year, and approximately 3 million are injured.  While all accidents cannot be avoided, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, every employer is responsible for the safety and health of its employees while on the job.

Last October, OSHA released its annual list of the 10 most frequently cited safety and health violations, based on data compiled from nearly 32,000 workplace inspections:

  1. Fall protection
  2. Hazard communication
  3. Scaffolds
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Lockout/tagout
  6. Powered industrial trucks
  7. Ladders
  8. Machine guarding
  9. Electrical wiring
  10. Electrical, general requirements

This list rarely changes from year to year, and OSHA contends that the number of workplace deaths and injuries would dramatically decline if employers focused on correcting these hazards.

The stuntman’s death on the set of “The Walking Dead,” which resulted from injuries associated with a fall, is believed to be the first stunt-related death reported in the United States in the last 17 years. Injuries from falls, however, especially in the construction industry, remain among the most common workplace hazards and continue to dominate OSHA’s list, with fall protection, scaffolds, and ladder issues among the top 10.

Of course, OSHA regulations are the bare-minimum standards employers must meet to be in compliance with the law, but employers should strive to go above and beyond the minimal requirements to ensure a safe workplace for their employees. Not only is it the right thing to do, but studies have shown that providing a safe workplace reduces costs, raises productivity, and improves morale, and that’s just good business.

For more information and OSHA’s recommendations for creating a safety and health program, go to www.osha.gov/shpguidelines. Finally, if your business is facing an OSHA investigation or needs advice about OSHA compliance, you should consult your employment counsel.

May you rest in peace, Mr. Bernecker.

Tesla’s CEO makes personal pledge for employee safety

Kristin Starnes Gray

Tesla, an electric-automobile manufacturer, made headlines last month after Worksafe, a California-based worker advocacy group, released a report indicating that the injury rates at Tesla’s Fremont manufacturing facility were higher than the industry aNissan Mechanicverage in 2014 and 2015. For example, the report indicated that the rate of serious injuries at Tesla’s Fremont plant (i.e., those resulting in days away from work, restricted duty, or transfer) was approximately double the industry rate for 2015. The report further questioned Tesla’s claim that injury rates had fallen between 2016 and 2017, with Worksafe arguing that the injury data Tesla had recorded at that time was too preliminary to be considered accurate.

In an effort to improve safety, Tesla has recently made a number of changes, such as: adding a third shift to reduce overtime and improve safety; hiring an ergonomics team to focus exclusively on improving health and safety and reducing ergonomic risks; and adding a safety team to each department. Most recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took the additional step of sending this e-mail to employees to demonstrate just how serious he is about employee safety:

No words can express how much I care about your safety and well-being. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better.  I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from a safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.

It will be interesting to see what comes from this personal pledge by Musk. In the meantime, all employers should be continually evaluating and reevaluating their safety efforts in the workplace. To drive home its mission of workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) currently lists on its website the names of workers across the country who have lost their lives on the job in various industries, along with the dates, locations by state, and manners of their deaths. According to OSHA’s figures, “[m]ore than 4,500 workers lose their lives on the job every year” across the country and across industries. Planning, training, and supervision are keys for prevention.

White House gone wild!

June 07, 2017 - by: Matt Gilley 1 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

These days, just about anyone with an Internet connection and some time on their hands enjoys a wonder of the modern age: binge-watching. One of the first, and still one of my favorites, is Netflix’s House of Cards. No matter how over-the-top the plot twists become, no matter how difficult it is to follow the multilayered schemes and shifting alliances, I can’t quit the drama surrounding the Underwoods and their White House. (It also helps that I get an added bonus of local color, since Frank Underwood hails from Gaffney, South Carolina, next door to where I sit in Spartanburg. One early episode even featured the Gaffney Peachoid – look it up.) businessman and house of cards cartoon

Frank Underwood’s approach to personnel is … well, unsentimental and often brutal. We all know the rule of at-will employment: Both the employee and the employer may end their relationship at any time, with or without notice or reason. Congressman, Vice President, President, and [spoiler alert!] now Mr. Underwood seems bent on adding a little twist to the familiar rule: An employer may terminate an employee’s employment at any time by killing said employee, without notice and often without much reason. The recently released season five is no exception.

Needless to say, Underwood is a man who holds little regard for the retaliation and whistleblower protections afforded to those who serve at his pleasure.

I’m a lawyer, and a hammer considers everything it sees to be a nail, so I often wonder what it would be like to defend the deposition of a fictional character or sit at a trial while that character testifies. Frank Underwood, if he were as candid under oath as he is with the camera, would probably have me reaching for his checkbook in an instant (check that–he would have me reaching for the Fifth Amendment in an instant). Take, for instance, these quotes:

  • Right off the jump in the show’s first episode, Frank’s neighbors’ dog was struck by a car. He stood over the dog, looked into the camera, and said, “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.” Then he strangled the last bits of life out of the pooch while no one was looking. His testimony is not off to a great start.  I also wish he hadn’t worn his favorite “F” and “U” cufflinks.
  • Of all the things I hold in high regard, rules are not one of them.” Oookay. Maybe we can recover from this one … maybe I can cast him as ambitious, results-oriented, and a real go-getter. Folks like a take-charge guy, don’t they?
  • For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” Oh, man. C’mon, Frank! Throw me a bone here! I realize you’re competitive, but a lot of your people are no more, and those folks over in the jury box are getting nervous and scoping out the exits.
  • I have zero tolerance for betrayal, which they will soon indelibly learn.” Lovely, Frank. I’ve stopped taking notes, and I’ve joined the jury in scoping out the exits.
  • When you’re fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher.” And with that, I will take my leave.

Any other House of Cards gems that you like? Feel free to include them in the comments.

Tragedies on and off the silver screen: How to avoid costly workplace injuries

April 10, 2017 - by: Angela Cummings 0 COMMENTS
Angela Cummings

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the title of a science fiction horror film that was recently released worldwide. The horror that occurred behind the scenes in the making of the movie rivaled the fictional onscreen terror. First, the leading actress’ stuntwoman, Olivia Jackson, sustained life-threatening injuries, including cerebral trauma, a crushed face, a severed neWork Injury Claim Formck artery, a paralyzed arm that had to be amputated, spinal cord damage, and multiple broken bones, all from a motorcycle collision with a camera crane. Then, later in filming, another crew member, Richard Cornelius, was killed when one of the movie’s props, an Army Hummer, crushed him.

In addition to such stunt and crew film personnel, actors themselves often suffer serious workplace injuries while filming movies. For example, while filming “Syriana,” A-list actor George Clooney broke his spine during a stunt scene gone awry. His injury was so serious that he was bedridden for a month with severe migraines, during which time he also suffered from depression.

Like the Hollywood employees just mentioned, everyday workers also suffer workplace injuries. These injuries can prove costly to their employers in the form of workers’ compensation claims, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties, and loss of productivity and morale. Private employers reported approximately 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses to OSHA in 2015. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that approximately 4,500 employees suffer workplace injuries each year that result in their deaths. Such recorded workplace injuries and illnesses range in severity and include wounds, amputations, back injuries, as well as fatal accidents from crushing and falling.

Almost one-half of the recorded workplace injuries were serious enough to result in direct or indirect financial loss to the employer, including the injured employee missing a day or more from work, requiring a transfer to a different position, or needing to limit some duties of his or her position due to a doctor-imposed work restriction. In addition, these are just the reported injuries. It’s safe to say that many thousands more injuries are either not reported by the employee and/or the employer.

Let’s take a quick look at the most common workplace injuries reported by employers and some tips for how to limit exposure to such accidents and injuries:

Overexertion

This tends to be the most common–and costly–type of injury for employers, resulting in a high number of workers’ compensation claims. How can employers limit injuries related to physical exertion?

  • Be sure employees take a sufficient number of breaks, especially in jobs that require strenuous physical movement. Many workplace injuries occur when a worker is tired.
  • Schedule the most difficult and labor-intensive tasks for employees at the beginning of their shifts, when they are fresh and able to concentrate more with respect to proper technique and safety.
  • Also, be sure that the workers have sufficient training to do their job tasks using proper methods and that supervisory personnel provide adequate oversight.

Slipping/falling

Another common cause of workplace injuries is slipping/falling. Such accidents are often preventable. Injuries sustained by employees who slip or fall in the workplace can be minor, such as bruises, or major, such as death due to a head injury. Here’s how employers can limit injuries related to slipping/falling:

  • Clean up spills as soon as they occur. Also, employers should ensure that the washing and cleaning of floors and stairs is limited to low-occupancy times of the day and that the areas being cleaned are marked sufficiently to put the employees on alert.
  • Be sure that all guardrails are properly maintained and that no debris or slippery trash (think: banana peels) causes hazardous conditions.
  • Finally, you can limit accidents with respect to falling from heights (such as ladders, rooftops, and stairs) by ensuring that employees always use safety harnesses and are trained about specific processes related to working from heights.

Vehicle accidents

Some employees must drive motorized vehicles for a living (cars, buses, trucks, tractors, etc.). Driving a vehicle as part of one’s job creates inherent safety risks and exposes both employers and employees to costly accidents and injuries. OSHA reports that workplace-driving accidents cost employers an average of $60 billion per year. How can employers limit injuries related to vehicle accidents?

  • Ensure that all drivers have proper training and licensing.
  • Conduct inspections of company-owned vehicles at regular intervals and make necessary repairs immediately afterwards.
  • Also, mandate that the employees who operate such vehicles be drug- and alcohol-free. Obviously, when an employee operates a vehicle under the influence, it results in compromised coordination, judgment, and concentration.

Companies must take active steps to keep their workplaces safe for employees, customers, vendors, and, in some cases, the general public. You, as human resources professionals, should work with both managers and employees to implement safety programs and provide thorough and regular training. With such practices, your workplace is less likely to resemble a horror film.

The power of habit and HR policies

January 23, 2017 - by: Katie O'Shea 1 COMMENTS
Katie O'Shea

At the start of a new year, many individuals set goals and resolutions, hoping to change bad habits or form new ones. Exercising, eating healthy, reading more books, learning something new, and spending more time with family or friends are all common resolutions. 

But many of these well-intentioned goals and resolutions fall off days, weeks, or even months after people resolve to stick with them. After about three weeks into the New Year, how are your goals and resolutions coming along?

If you’ve found you haven’t been hitting the gym quite as hard as you’d planned, or that you’ve been unable to resist those sugary treats you vowed to give up, you may personally benefit from picking up the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book delves deep into the science behind our habits and how to transform them.

In addition to focusing on how individuals can change habits, however, the book also explores how institutional habits can change in huge companies. Perhaps your organization has also started out the year by setting goals for tasks to accomplish this year. However, just as changing habits can be difficult on an individual level, changing habits and company culture on an institutional level can be even more challenging.

The book discusses how focusing on certain so-called “keystone habits” can help transform other areas of an organization. For example, in one case study, the book delves into how a new CEO of a huge international company transformed the entire organization, its habits, and ultimately its bottom line, all by focusing on safety. Safety was a keystone habit that management, employees, and the union could get behind. By focusing on changing safety habits to make the workplace safer, employees and management rallied around a common goal. In doing so, the company changed its safety policies and encouraged a culture of open communication. By demonstrating that the company was serious about hearing feedback from employees on how to improve safety, employees began to feel comfortable sharing other ideas as well, such as ways to increase efficiency. Soon, the company had both dramatically reduced injuries and increased efficiency, and in turn profits soared.

Now is a good time to seriously evaluate and audit company HR policies to determine not only if they comply with the law, but also if they contribute to good habits and company culture. If not, it may be time to attempt to find ways to transform those habits. I recommend adding The Power of Habit to your “to read” list both to benefit you personally, and to benefit your organization.

Peter Dinklage takes on Elf

December 05, 2016 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

It’s December, which means that those of us holiday fanatics can decorate and watch Christmas movies to our hearts’ content without shame.  Of course, I won’t tell anyone if you already had your tree up in November (like me) or if you never took it down from last year.  One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf, starring Will Ferrell.  It is surprisingly packed with various employment law issues, such as employee substance abuse at work, sexual harassment, and workplace violence.  In one of the more memorable scenes, Peter Dinklage’s character, Miles Finch, demonstrates how good intentions can still lead to a harassment complaint.  Facepalm, retro disappointed man slapping forehead, d'oh!

As background, Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, has been raised as one of Santa’s elves and only recently learned that he is actually human. He has tracked down his biological father, who works for a children’s book publisher in New York City. Unaccustomed to the human world and innocent to its realities, Buddy has difficulty adjusting to life in the Big Apple and working in his father’s office.

Cue Peter Dinklage, who steals the scene wherever he goes.  His character, Finch, is a best-selling children’s author ready get down to the business of pitching his latest book ideas. Finch, like Dinklage, is a busy, high-powered professional who also happens to have a form dwarfism. Tensions flare when Buddy barges into the room and innocently mistakes Finch for one of Santa’s elves. Unaware that Buddy was actually adopted and raised by Santa’s elves, Finch is understandably insulted and upset by Buddy’s elf comments. Finch tries to remain professional but quickly reaches his breaking point when Buddy calls him an “angry elf.” Finch then initiates his own trial by combat and attacks Buddy before storming out.

This is a great example of how even the most well-meaning employee can unknowingly engage in conduct giving rise to a harassment complaint. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has explained, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected status such as disability, race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), etc. It becomes unlawful where (1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or (2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Had an employee complained about conduct like Buddy’s, the employer’s best practice would be to investigate immediately,  interview potential witnesses, provide the accused employee with an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story, and take prompt remedial action reasonably designed to end any harassment. Other best practices include regular employee and supervisor training as well as having a strong harassment policy clearly stating that harassment will not be tolerated, the various avenues for reporting such issues, and that retaliation will not be tolerated. I’ll leave the workplace violence issue for another post.

Thankfully for Buddy, his tale ends on a cheerful note and teaches us that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. In the meantime, what’s your favorite color?

 

Learning from Orlando: addressing potentially violent employees

June 21, 2016 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

In the nine days since Omar Mateen opened fire in the Pulse nightclub, killing 49 individuals and injuring several others, a report surfaced that Mateen’s violent nature and potential to do harm to others was readily apparent to at least one of his co-workers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Daniel Gilroy, who worked with Mateen for about a year as a security guard at PGA Village South in Port St. Lucie, FL, complained multiple times to their employer that Mateen was dangerous, that “he didn’t like blacks, women, lesbians and Jews.” Gilroy claims his employer’s failure to respond to the complaints left him with no choice but to resign. “I quit because everything he said was toxic,” Gilroy to USA Today, “and the company wouldn’t do anything. This guy was unhinged and unstable. He talked of killing people.”  New York City

Last week, in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting incident, Marilyn Moran, partner in the Orlando office of Ford Harrison, offered employers advice on how to help employees in crisis through empathy and counseling, while remaining compliant with state and federal employment laws. The situation also highlights another issue that confronts employers on a daily basis: the potentially violent employee.

Reports of a potentially violent co-worker bring many difficult questions to bear. What are the nature of the alleged comments? Who is the source of the complaint and does that person have ulterior motives? Most important, should we get law enforcement involved or can we handle this ourselves? Because most employers will encounter such a situation at some point, it is best to formulate a plan of action and train your front level managers/supervisors on how to respond.

First and foremost, human resources professionals and managers must remain engaged with their workforce. Allowing yourself to detach from your employees for great lengths of time, whether it’s to catch up on paperwork or tend to other issues, may permit small problems to fester into big ones. This is not to say you can control or prevent a violent employee simply by seeing him/her on a regular basis. What you can do, however, is assist your managers in recognizing and addressing any potential issues before they become unmanageable or more threatening.

Remaining engaged also will help you ferret out the real problems from the noncredible complaints. As with any complaint investigation, if you have no personal experience with the alleged violent employee or the complaining employee, you will be at a severe disadvantage in evaluating character and credibility. When the human resources department cannot gain face-to-face exposure to employees as easily, such as in larger workforces or employers with multiple locations, it is critically important to have managers who are actively engaged with the employees they supervise. This does not mean managers should attempt to be their employees’ best friend. They should, however, remain present in the workplace, approachable, and maintain the highest levels of credibility with their employees at all times. This will serve to foster open communication about any issues arising about or between employees.

Employers also should maintain clear and well-disseminated policies prohibiting violence or threatening conduct toward coworkers and third parties. This includes verbal threats of potential harm. Employees should know to whom they should report this kind of conduct, and employers should investigate all complaints.

Employers may be hesitant to take action against an employee due to concerns that the employee may claim disability discrimination. While mental disabilities are protected, direct threats to co-workers and others are not. Employers should be sure not to take action against an employee simply because he/she has a mental disability that has shown the potential to result in violent or threatening behavior in others, such as bipolar disorder. Actions should be based on the employee’s own actions exhibiting a potential threat and not the employer’s assumptions about what might occur.

If a complaint or other situation appears to be particularly serious, do not hesitate to involve law enforcement officials. Do not underestimate complaints of violence or threatened violence to avoid a “scene.” Law enforcement are specially trained to handle potentially threatening situations and/or individuals. They can help assess the seriousness of a reported threat and determine the appropriate response. At the very least, law enforcement will create a report documenting the situation and the employers response. Employers owe it to their employees and their communities to take every effort to address these issues head on.

 

 

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