Although workplace violence problems are not new, they are growing in public awareness. Consequently, there are legal developments and potential liability risks that all employers face. To understand associated legal risks and issues, and ultimately create change and develop solutions to problems, one must first gain an understanding of the different types of workplace violence and the factors which may indicate potential threats. It is also important that employers create and implement a workplace violence policy to ensure better understanding of the issue and the proper procedures to take when potential problems arise.
Types of Workplace Violence
Workplace violence is distinguished by four categories: disgruntled employees, crimes by unknown assailants, displaced domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Each presents distinctive risk factors which need to be addressed, as well as preventive measures which should also be considered and employed to decrease the likelihood of violent criminal acts. Whenever a civil action is under investigation by counsel or by an expert, categories of assailants and employer actions must be considered.
The Disgruntled Employee
Generally, the perpetrator of workplace violence is an employee who either perceives or is subjected to wrongful treatment by an employer. Although use of any standard profile of disgruntled employees is not without risk, research by the Workplace Violence Institute in more than 200 cases revealed that in each instance, disgruntled employee perpetrators exhibit multiple pre-incident indicators before committing an act of violence.
Although there is no way to guarantee that someone who may eventually become a “disgruntled employee” is not hired, an employer can take steps to reduce the risk. The following is a list of some methods that are used when individuals are hired and employed by a business.
The following is a partial list
- Unexplained increase in absenteeism
- Has a plan to “solve all problems”
- Repeated violations of company policies
- Behavior which is suspect of paranoia
- Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and personal hygiene
- Depression and withdrawal
- Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
- Verbal abuse or threats of co-workers, supervisors
- Frequent, vague physical complaints
- Increase in unsolicited comments on or about firearms
- Resistance and overreaction to changes in procedures
Theories of liability against an employer for a disgruntled employee’s assaultive behavior should be evaluated in light of what the employer could and should have done to address the risk. The discovery process should focus on identifying whether indicator factors were present, whether the employer recognized them, and what steps were taken to address potential behavior problems.