Best Practices to Prevent Workplace Violence

Author: Mario Pecoraro

The United States Department of Labor reports that nearly 2 million American workers have been victims of workplace violence each year and the agency states there are many more cases that go unreported! According to the latest National Safety Council figures, in 2016, fatalities resulting from workplace violence represented 17% or 882 out of a total of 5,190 overall deaths. That figure is second only to transportation as the top cause of workplace fatalities.  As a business owner and employment background screening investigator with a background in Criminal Justice, I was compelled to look into the statistics, trends and red flags that could explain and possibly deter an event like this from happening. Were there common threads in each case and red flags missed?

I found that the average aggressor was under the age of 40, often the victim of teasing or bullying, has emotional outburst, hates criticism and often blames or threatens others. To put it into a hiring context, although the education/“IQ factor” is important, a person’s “EQ” or “Emotional Quotient factor” is also critical. This is defined as a person’s emotional intelligence and includes their ability to have empathy, flexibility, resiliency, coping and stress management skills.  Other commonalties I found include the employee showing signs of depression: decreased attention to appearance and hygiene, withdrawal, severe mood swings and suicidal thoughts; anger: resistance or over-reaction to policy or procedures, radical or discriminatory beliefs or hate speech posted on social media, explosive rage without provocation; or perceiving themselves as a victim of their co-workers. In addition, they may be spiraling out of control due to stress factors at home abusing alcohol or drugs.

This is the reason that we also counsel businesses to have policies in the office that if employee’s see something not right, they should say something. Intervention could help an employee from going too far down a dark tunnel or at least alert a company’s leadership that security measures may need to be put in place to protect workers. Social media policies are important to also have in place. Employees need to be aware of what is and is not acceptable to post as it could have a huge impact on a company’s reputation. We suggest notifying applicants and employees that social media hiring reports and scans may be performed to make sure a hire or worker fits with the core values and corporate culture.  Social media scans have evolved to include a person’s complete online presence. When performed correctly and legally, they adhere to FCRA and EEOC regulations and follow privacy and protected class protocols but can provide insight on discriminatory or hate speech sentiments, sexually explicit material, criminal or violent behavior, and potential drug use.

Another aspect of work culture that can help create a safe environment is discouraging gossip, bullying and negative confrontations. In my office we have a set of core values that we try to live by, and they are reinforced and discussed often.  Encouraging a positive attitude and having integrity goes a long way in setting the tone for the atmosphere in a company. Every Monday we include time in our weekly huddle to discuss if an employee went above and beyond, and another employee will highlight the action by identifying what core value was exhibited. This philosophy is less likely to result in an employee so disgruntled that they would resort to acting out of control or in a violent manner toward other co-workers.  It’s not the only answer but certainly a tool to put in place to create a safer and happier work environment.

Since the Parkland school shooting, eight states have enacted “Red Flag” laws that allow law enforcement to remove guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. Also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) or Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs), the laws enable law enforcement, and sometimes family members and other concerned parties, to petition a judge to remove guns from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. Those who are closest to an individual sometimes see red flags and can act before a situation becomes dire.  This happened after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter killed 11 in October of 2018. Days later, family members realized that their relative was on the verge of becoming a mass-murder copy-cat when he posted on social media that the victims “deserved” it, we should kill “Jews and black people” and the synagogue shooting was a “dry run of things to come.”  Thankfully, the family alerted authorities in time for them to confiscate a myriad of weapons including the parts used to modify AR-15 assault rifles.  This is one more example of why it’s important for employers to monitor social media, spot red flags and tell employees to come forward if they see a looming threat.

Best practices for creating a safe work environment should include thorough background investigations for applicants and after the worker is on the job.  Not all background investigations are exhaustive so HR personnel should understand the pros and cons of the different types of searches and what they can or can’t reveal. For example, some searches are more appropriate to uncover misdemeanors and others are better at discovering felonies.  Usually a combination of searches, and/or a package customized to a specific industry can yield the most reliable results.  Knowing what can be potentially revealed in a background investigation versus what is not can have a huge impact in the ability of HR leaders to navigate risk.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I am looking forward to presenting, “Best Practices to Prevent Workplace Violence” at the New York City 2019 Annual HR Conference.” The theme, “Exceeding the Vision” is appropriate as addressing risk is not just one person’s job, but everyone’s job.  Thirty percent of someone’s life is spent at work, so it critical to know about the people who work for you and strive to make the workplace safe. I hope to see you at my presentation!

Mario Pecoraro is an entrepreneur, corporate visionary, author and founder of Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, Inc. The company specializes in background screening and comprehensive insurance claims investigations. He conducts accredited webinars and has presented at conferences across the country on mitigating risk through background investigations, workers compensation fraud, and how companies can avoid a workplace violence tragedy. Mario will be one of the breakout session speakers at the Annual New York City SHRM conference on April 5, 2019. For more information on Mario’s session and other conference details, click here: https://www.nycshrm.org/mpage/p/?l=2019-annual-conference.