By CHRIS CEPLENSKI
Business and Legal Reports
Workplace violence remains a potential threat to employers everywhere. Fortunately, much of it can be prevented. And the key to prevention - as simple as it sounds - is training employees to be aware of their environment.
Employees must be taught to recognize the warning signs of a potentially violent person or situation, and to respond accordingly.
One type of situation of increasing concern to experts is the spillover of domestic violence into the workplace. It often involves a non-employee appearing on company property.
Envision this nightmarish scenario: One of your employees, Mary, is physically attacked after walking out of your company's building. The police arrive and begin asking questions. It turns out that the attacker was a former boyfriend of hers. Only then do you find out from a number of coworkers that they had repeatedly seen him loitering around the entrance of the building over the last several days.
Jim, another one of your employees, had even witnessed the man approach Mary on one occasion and grab her by the arm. Jim heard Mary exclaim, "I told you to leave me alone!" When you ask Jim why he didn't tell anyone about the incident, he replies that he had asked Mary about what he had seen, and she told him that it was "no big deal" and "don't worry about it."
How might this violent act have been prevented? Answer: through the proper training of your employees. This was the message that Jim DeMaio of Learning Dynamics delivered at a recent seminar on preventing workplace violence, sponsored by the Organizational Development & Learning Center at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
Being wary of the unfamiliar
Employees should be trained to recognize and respond to the presence of a suspicious or otherwise unauthorized individual on the company's property, regardless of whether the person actually engages in obvious stalking behavior - such as making a threat to harm one of your employees.
Your employees should learn to be on the lookout for people who are unfamiliar or don't seem to belong on workplace property. That would include, for example, a driver who sits in the company parking lot for an extended period of time or frequently appears there over a number of days. Employees should not take for granted that the person has a legitimate reason to be there.
One way to respond to such a situation is to report the person immediately to appropriate personnel - whether it's the HR director or security. This way, HR or security can confirm whether the person indeed has a legitimate reason to be there.
Another response for an employee who notices a stranger on company property is to approach the individual. The key here is how the individual is approached. The employee's approach needn't (and shouldn't ) be confrontational or accusatory. Rather, the aim should be awareness.
Perhaps the best way to approach the suspicious individual, DeMaio said, is simply to ask, "Can I help you?" Such a question shows a positive curiosity (versus a negative or suspicious one). It also lets the individual know that the employee is aware of his or her unfamiliar presence at the workplace.
If it becomes clear from the response that the person has no legitimate reason for being on company property, the employee should report the stranger's presence to the proper personnel. That applies even if the person leaves the premises after being questioned, since he or she may return later.
And what about an employee like Jim, who witnesses stalking or threatening behavior firsthand? Clearly, the arm grabbing he witnessed was something to worry about, despite Mary's assurances to the contrary. DeMaio says employees in such situations should report a suspicious person even if the victim of the stalking behavior is uncooperative.
By instructing employees to report all suspicious individuals (or those engaging in threatening behavior) employers enable themselves to take the proper action to remove the individual from the premises before potential disaster strikes. This may involve simply asking the individual to leave (with the help of security personnel, if they are available). However, if the individual is uncooperative, an employer may need to contact the police to have the person removed for trespassing.
To learn more about other seminars offered by Yale University's Organizational Development & Learning Center, click here.