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With violence in the workplace on the rise, organizations need to establish, communicate and carry out clear workplace violence prevention policies, according to CCH Incorporated (CCH), a leading provider of human resources and employment law information, software and e-learning programs. While the obvious damage of workplace violence is the immediate physical harm it can cause, there can be other significant long-term effects on the organization and those individuals who are either directly or indirectly harmed by the violence. “The psychological impact violence can have on everyone in and around the workplace and the negative publicity a violent act generates can be hard to recover from,” said Lori Rosen, CCH workplace law analyst. “Compounding this is the potential liability that an organization and its managers may face if it can be shown they didn’t take appropriate precautions. It all adds up to a significant financial cost and a bad position for any organization to find itself in.” To help protect employees and avoid financial damage, companies need to establish effective workplace violence prevention programs. While programs need to be tailored for each specific organization and work environment, there are some common essential points that should be part of most workplace violence prevention programs. NO TALK, JOKES OR ACTS OF VIOLENCE TOLERATED The prevention program should clearly state that no talk, jokes or acts of violence will be tolerated and outline the ramifications for violating this policy. While “no acts of violence” obviously would include shooting, bombing, sabotage and destruction to property, these acts only account for a small percentage of workplace violence. Behaviors that occur much more frequently, like pushing and shoving, are also considered workplace violence. Even horseplay that starts out as playful touching, punching or slapping may become aggressive, so it too may be considered violent behavior to be discouraged. Threats of violence, including intimidation, harassment or coercion, that involve or affect employees, their families, friends or property as well as customers or the organization are also considered violent and should be taken seriously. Even jokes about violence should be prohibited as any talk of violence may be a precursor to physical violence. NO WEAPONS ALLOWED Employers need to make it clear that no weapons are allowed in the workplace. This includes banning weapons not only in the actual work area, but also in the company parking lot or any other business property. The ban should apply to everyone — both employees and non-employees — unless specifically exempted by the company (e.g., a security guard). As part of the prevention program, it also needs to be made clear that weapons include not just guns and knives but other devices that could be used to threaten or harm someone. For example, a baseball bat can be considered a weapon if wielded by someone in a threatening manner. REPORT VIOLENT BEHAVIOR Because it’s impossible for employers to continuously monitor for potential violent behavior, employees have to be the first line of defense when it comes to preventing workplace violence. As a result, the violence prevention program should emphasize that any violent behavior must be reported immediately and the program should include educating employees on signs of personal behavior that may signal that a co-worker is near the breaking point. “Often, the immediate reaction to violence at a company is surprise; they hadn’t expected the individual to act violently,” said Rosen. “But after further investigation, it’s not uncommon to find that there were signs. For example, others had seen the individual displaying resentment or anger or the person had made previous threats that had gone unreported.” Because violence can quickly escalate, employers need to make sure employees understand and take seriously their responsibility to report any threat of violence or behavior they question as violent. The company also should assure employees that all reports of violent threats, abuse or violent behavior will be investigated promptly and thoroughly and that reports will be kept confidential. It’s also essential that employers follow through once a report is made, taking appropriate disciplinary action against any employee that violates the organization’s violence prevention policy, up to and including termination. WORK SAFELY Not only should the policy include measures to teach employees how to identify and report violent behavior, but also how to work safely. This includes basic techniques, such as being alert to your surroundings as well as knowing where the nearest and safest evacuation route is and where the nearest phone is to call for assistance. Working safely also includes providing employees with guidelines for diffusing hostile situations. Such techniques include trying to keep a safe distance from an aggressor, speaking calmly, not being confrontational and taking a non-threatening stance. MAKE SURE SECURITY MEASURES ARE FOLLOWED Many organizations have put in place specific security measures that can support a workplace violence prevention program. These may include photo ID badges required to enter the building, security cameras, metal detectors at entrances or bulletproof glass in retails situations. Employers need to emphasize that these measures are in place for the employees’ protection and that employees should not try to “get around” them. For example, holding secured doors open for others, carrying things in for people they don’t know, or not taking time to re-lock secured areas. “Creating a workplace violence prevention policy is really only one step in the process,” said Rosen. “To be fully effective, the program has to be communicated to employees and employees have to be given the training and tools needed to help carry out the program.” � 2000, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved.

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