Workplace Violence and Harassment
Violence and harassment in the workplace are real risks to worker health and safety, and yet may not be immediately considered when a company is developing workplace safety protocols.
Violence in the workplace is often linked to internal culture. Fostering a positive workplace culture and providing employees with sensitivity training, as well as tools and resources to resolve conflicts constructively can go a long way toward preventing violence and harassment.
What constitutes violence and harassment in the workplace?
Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, or other threatening or disruptive behavior such as intimidation or harassment, that occurs at the work site.
Even if no one is physically hurt, threats and verbal abuse still constitute workplace violence.
Violence can occur in any workplace, regardless of industry. It can impact anyone, though it disproportionately affects women and people of colour. Violence in the workplace can come from coworkers or supervisors, but it can also come from external sources, particularly if the job requires a worker to interact with the public. Harassment or bullying by a client or customer can still constitute workplace violence.
How can employers help prevent workplace violence?
As with any workplace risk, it is important to conduct a risk assessment to determine where and when your employees may be exposed to workplace violence. An assessment for potential violence in the workplace should examine the nature of the workplace, as well as the nature and conditions of the work itself, and provide mitigations for any observed risks of violence.
Potential areas of concern might include:
- Jobs that require employees to work alone or in isolated areas
- Public-facing or frontline jobs
- High-stress environments such as hospitals
- Jobs where employees are required to handle cash or valuables
- Presence of employees who have a history of violence or aggression
A thorough risk assessment will help guide the development of a formal workplace violence prevention training policy and program. It is important to communicate your policy to employees, and ensure that everyone is given adequate time to read and understand it, and relevant training is distributed as needed.
Managers and supervisors should take an active role in employee awareness of the plan; make sure they are alert to the warning signs of workplace violence and know how to respond should an incident occur.
Maintaining a violence-free workplace
Every person in your workplace has a part to play in creating an environment free from violence and harassment. As an employer, you have a duty to provide regular training for all employees (both new and current), as well as supervisors and managers.
To prevent toxic workplaces, bullying, and harassment, it’s important to foster a climate of trust and respect among workers and between employees and management. This might mean hiring employees who are the right culture fit, creating opportunities for employees to interact and get to know one another, and having an “open-door” policy to ensure management is present and available to assist with questions and issues.
Supervisors should be trained to recognize unnecessary negativity and stress in the workplace, and take steps to mitigate it before it leads to more problematic behaviour.
Another important way to reduce threats of violence is to make it simple to bring concerns forward. To encourage a “speak-up” culture, establish clear procedures and avenues for employees to report threats and violence. Any violence-prevention procedure should include a process for documenting threats and your response to them – up to and including terminating employees who make threats to anyone else in the workplace.
If you are forced to make a decision to terminate an employee, take adequate precautions to protect any individuals who may have been threatened. Having an anonymous reporting process, and involving witnesses and security personnel can help.
To protect your workplace from external threats, ensure that you regularly evaluate physical security systems such as alarms, ID badges, passcodes, cameras, and security staff.
Make sure your employees are trained on securing the premises, and do not hold doors open for unauthorized individuals.
Are you ready to develop a comprehensive anti-violence policy for your workplace? Or do you need help reevaluating an existing policy? Fluent Motion are workplace safety experts, and can help you at every step of the way, whether that’s conducting a hazard analysis, or revising policies and procedures. Contact us today.