Violence in the workplace is an everyday event that affects employees throughout the nation. It must be addressed, clearly defined, and possible solutions presented that will eventually identify the potential aggressor and victim. According to the United States Department of Justice (1998) the workplace is the most dangerous place to be in America. In fact, workplace homicide is the fastest growing category of murder in the United States (U.S. Department of Justice, 1998). However the real danger is the ever-present problem of physical and verbal violence.
In this paper, the concept of workplace violence is defined and several examples are given for reference. The paper will discuss the responsibility of the Human Resources Management team to identify a potential problem before violence occurs, and also prevent work place violence through adequate and necessary training of employees. Research will be discussed that explains how to deal with workplace violence after it occurs, and the liability for the Human Resources Management team when failing to acknowledge workplace violence or having a policy in place that addresses the problem.
A brief historical background will be offered, but the body will concentrate on several causes of the problem, list financial effects where violence has occurred, and offer possible management solutions to the problems created by potential aggressors. Companies have many things to learn about identifying the employee who will become violent, but training is available to help in this area. Employers need to be willing to invest money, time, and faith to protect the employees and customers from becoming victims to someone else's anger and aggressions.
The growing concerns facing business and the issue of violence in the workplace has evoked the expertise of the Occupations, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop guidelines that address the problem. These guidelines should put in place by the Human Resources Management team. OSHA (2001) has declared workplace violence as an important safety and heath issue in today's workplace and encourages employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs. Additionally, OHSA has developed guidelines and recommendations to reduce worker exposure to this hazard but is not initiating rule making at this time.
By facing workplace violence and properly training company employees, the Human Resource Department will eliminate many hazards and legal problems that might otherwise occur on the job. Without addressing these issues, legalities and permanent problems will become a reality which will always follow the company to create a negative reputation for the organization. It is the job of the Human Resource Department to learn how to recognize the signs of stress and inform the employee of programs that are available. Once the employee is informed of the options available that will train them to deal with stress, it is then that employees responsibility.
This paper discusses a review of literature with research based information that offers documentation of how management is responsible for employee training, and the identification of workplace issues that might result in violence. It is the responsibility of a company's management team to learn how to identify potential problems before they erupt and cause a situation that might become irreversible. Violence in the workplace is an ongoing concern and companies are constantly addressing how to implement safety programs that will create a safe and productive work environment.
Introduction of the Issue: Workplace Violence
Violent acts perpetrated against employees at work are a major cause of workplace mortality. In 1997, 856 homicides and 212 suicides occurred at work. Combined, these violent acts constituted the major cause of work-related deaths. In addition to being a humanitarian concern, violent acts are a major cost for employers. One study estimates that workplace violence costs employers between $6.4 and $36 billion in lost productivity, diminished public image, insurance expenses, increased security, and other related factors (Speer, 1998).
Homicide is the second major cause of death at work for both men and women (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1997). It should be noted, however, that outsiders perpetrate most homicides in industries with direct public contact. This is reflected in occupations at high risk for violence such as employees and owners of small grocery and convenience stores, hotel clerks, gas station workers, law enforcement officers, and other publicly linked occupations (Neuman, 1998).
Workplace violence seems to have two definitions. The one perpetrated by the media is an armed, disgruntled employee or client who shoots selectively or indiscriminately at employees, supervisors and managers. However, studies have shown that the real threat workers face is more accurately described by the Workplace Violence Research Institute (Mattman, 2001) is definition: Any act against an employee that creates a hostile work environment and negatively affects the employee, either physically or psychologically. These acts include all types of physical or verbal assaults, threats, coercion, intimidation and all forms of harassment.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Lord, 1998) 750 people have been murdered at work each year since 1980. Over two million Americans are attacked each year and another six million workers are threatened while at their place of employment. These figures point out the real dangers, dangerous employers cannot afford to ignore. Even if employers weren't concerned with the decency factor, they should be concerned about the cost and lost productivity caused by these acts.
History of Violence in the Workplace
Incidents of work related violence were virtually unheard of until the 1970's. Since then, it has more than tripled. As companies downsize, reorganize, reengineer, and demand more of each employee, stress levels increase to the breaking point, causing work-related violence to escalate.
Most experts agree those social issues; especially substance abuse, illegal drugs, layoffs, and poverty are major contributors to occupational violence. The fact that guns can easily be obtained is a factor for violent crime in the workplace. Excessive graphic violence on TV and in movies, language and ethnic differences among workers, and the general acceptance of violence as a form of communication by a large segment of our population are other causes frequently cited by those closely associated with this problem.
Preventing workplace violence isn't the employees' only concern, and it isn't just watching out for the disgruntled former worker who might return to work armed with a couple of semiautomatic weapons. Companies must guard against all risks faced by employees. It is the responsibility of Human Resources Management to identify a potential problem before violence occurs. An effective workplace violence prevention program includes physical security, pre-employment screening, good termination practices, employee assistance programs, out placement and a host of other options.
In response to the violence that was occurring on the job, the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed some guidelines to address the problem. These guidelines should put in place by the Human Resources Management team. OSHA (2001) has declared workplace violence as an important safety and heath issue in today's workplace and encourages employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs. Additionally, OHSA has developed guidelines and recommendations to reduce worker exposure to this hazard but is not initiating rule making at this time. OSHA makes the following statement in reference to violence in the workplace: "OSHA does not have a specific standard for workplace violence. However, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the General Duty Clause governs the extent of an employer's obligation to address workplace violence. The General Duty Clause provides that: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees. OSHA's commitment is to encourage employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs."
OSHA's guidelines and recommendations are based upon four basic elements. First, management commitment and employee involvement is necessary and should included clear goals for worker security at smaller sites or a written program for larger organizations. Next, an on the job analysis must involve the identification of high-risk situations through employee surveys, workplace visits to include reviews of injury and illness data. Third, hazard prevention and control calls for designing engineering, administrative and work practice controls to prevent or limit violent incidents. Finally, training and education to ensure employees know about potential security hazards and ways to protect themselves and their co-workers.
Causes of Workplace Violence study that was conducted by Donald Gibson and Sigal Barsade (1999) of the Yale School of Management surveyed one thousand workers. The workers were asked, "In general, how angry do you feel at work? The result showed that almost a quarter of the employees (23.3%) admitted feeling "at least somewhat angry at work." The study's authors found that such feelings of anger are associated with feelings of betrayal by the organization, a sense that promises are not kept, that there is a lack of respect and dignity shown the respondent, and that the worker and the organization do not share the same values.
When questioned about what caused them to feel angry, 11% cited the cause as a supervisor or…