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8 warning signs of violent behavior
(Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on workplace violence. Last month, we gave you information about recent activity and how you should manage this problem. We also gave you a checklist, sample policies, and advice on how to handle layoffs. This month, we give you warning signs, advice on when to call the police, and an extensive list of resources.)
The recent fatal shootings by an employee's estranged spouse at a nursing home in North Carolina have served as a harsh reminder that workplace violence can happen anywhere, anytime.
While not specifically addressing the NC situation, W. Barry Nixon, SPHR, executive director of the National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence, Lake Forest, CA, says when a person resorts to violent behavior, there often were warning signs that might have gone unnoticed.
"Training supervisors and employees to recognize the early warning signs and to report them is a crucial step in a workplace violence prevention program," Nixon says.
The following are warning indicators of potential workplace violence, based on advice from the federal government1:
Once you have noticed a subordinate, co-worker, or patient showing any signs of the above indicators, you should take the following steps, the federal government advises1:
It is very important to respond appropriately, i.e., not to overreact but also not to ignore a situation, according to the federal government. Sometimes that reaction might be difficult to determine, it says. Managers should discuss the situation with expert resource staff to get help in determining how best to handle the situation, the government says.
When should you call in the police?
An employee is dismissed, and he threatens co-workers and managers. What should you do?
Police should be called any time there is a critical concern for the safety of any employee or individual on the business premises, says Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD, professor of occupational and environmental health and director, Injury Prevention Research Center, at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.
A threat assessment team should track any individuals of concern, she says. The team should include representatives from human resources, security, facilities management, and other departments. "One important thing is that upper administration gives full support to the team, and they have the ability to collect the information they need," Peek-Asa says. "They also need to be well trained so that they can treat every case fairly and impartially."
Police can be partner
Alert police of any individuals of concern that are being followed by the team, she says. "Law enforcement agencies can be a critical partner when making decisions about individuals of concern, especially if for smaller businesses that don't have formal plans and procedures," Peek-Asa says. Contact your local law enforcement agencies to find out what types of general resources are available and who to call to obtain more information, she advises.
Call police whenever there's a violence or a threat of violence, says Sandy Seay, PhD, president of Seay Management Consultants, a human resources management consulting firm in Orlando, FL. "A threat is one of the most dangerous things," he says.
Better to have no regrets
Situations can escalate to a level above the capability of the [ambulatory surgery program] to handle, says Dawn Q. McLane, RN, MSA, CASC, CNOR, chief development officer of the Nikitis Resource Group, a Broomfield, CO-based company that specializes in surgery center development, management, and consulting. "It would be better to have the police present, who are trained to de-escalate these kinds of events, than to later wish you had, after someone has been injured or worse," she says.
The staff who are responsible for human resources and/or security should be knowledgeable of many new laws that address threats because, in many cases, the police officer who responds to an incident might not be updated, says W. Barry Nixon, SPHR, executive director of the National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence, Lake Forest, CA. "Frequently, employers that call the police get the response that 'the alleged perpetrator has not actually done anything to violate the law, call us if they actually do something,'" Nixon says. "Employers should be able to respond to this statement with, 'Please check state/local regulation XYZ, which states that . . . and I believe you will see this is a violation of the law.'"
The following resources are available for addressing violence and vandalism by co-workers: