Today’s shooting at a Kentucky plastics plant that killed five people is yet another reminder that employers need to continue to be vigilant in preventing workplace violence.
This year marked the 10-year-anniversary of one of the most infamous workplace violence incidents in Connecticut — the shooting at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters.
As I indicated in a report from March, in hindsight, the employee exhibited signs of stress before the incident, even writing an angry letter to officials in the weeks prior.
The early reports from the Kentucky shooting lack details on the employee’s past history, but I would be very surprised if the employee didn’t have another lesser incident at the workplace prior to the shooting. Unfortunately, to suggest that the incident could have been "avoided" falls within the Monday-morning quarterbacking purview.
So, after this incident, what can employers consider to reduce the risk of workplace violence?
- Provide training to employees. Recognizing the signs of potential workplace violence is crucial to any prevention campaign. Teach employees of the "warning signs" to look for and ensure that employees are sensitive to this area.
- Encourage an "open door" policy. Much like New York Transit’s "If you see something, say something" slogan, the employer should encourage employees to report potential safety risks or unusual behavior.
- Don’t be afraid to contact the police. Some employers take the view that they can handle a matter "internally". Resist the urge. Contact law enforcement when appropriate; they may already have information on the subject that would help with an existing case or have knowledge of a prior history. Obviously, not all incidents rise to that level, but some do.
- Take incidents seriously. While some employers have instituted "zero tolerance" policies, a one-size-fits-all policy may not be appropriate. Employers should consider what type of approach they want to take to workplace violence incidents or incidents of lesser severity that still indicate a problem. Employers should immediately respond to such incidents when they happen.
There are plenty of resources available to employers out there including information available on OSHA’s website.
Other blogs have already started discussing the case from an employment perspective as well including EmployeescreenIQ blog, and Michael’s Moore’s detailed recap on the Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Law blog.
For some additional background on states that have implemented laws that may make it more difficult for employers to ban guns on the workplace, such as Georgia, see The Word on Employment Law’s take on it. Lastly, from January, there was an interesting article about using harassment restraining orders as a tool to reduce workplace violence that is also worth a read.