Workplace Violence | Prevention, Training, Examples & Tips | Webinar
The aftermath of the Empire State Building Shooting has prompted a much-needed discourse on workplace safety, with attention directed at adopting stronger security measures and learning certain warning signs that can help business owners and supervisors pin down suspicious activity or behaviors.
We invite you to sit back, listen to our expert panelists discuss key topics, and most importantly, learn helpful tools and practices to improve workplace safety in your office or storefront.
- Who's it For?
- Business Owners
- Human Resources Professionals
- Building Managers
- Insurance Professionals
- Building Owners and Operators
- Security Professionals
- What Will You Learn?
- How to prevent and respond to workplace violence, with an emphasis on identifying signs of future or imminent violence
- Establishing effective workplace violence policies
- Communicating with law enforcement
- Latest advancements in surveillance technology
Meet Our Panelists
Josh Daniels, President of VideoSurveillance.com
Mr. Daniels is an ardent entrepreneur with years of experience in the security and IP video surveillance markets. His business experience paired with his vast industry knowledge has been instrumental in helping countless organizations improve their safety and security efforts. Mr. Daniels is a graduate of Stanford University and The Wharton School.
Tess C. Taylor, PHR, Human Resources Expert
Tess C. Taylor is the founder of HR Writer and a 14-year veteran to Human Resources. As a thought leader in the Human Resources industry, Tess has been a featured contributor to multiple career and business publications, including The US Chamber of Commerce and Dale Carnegie Institute, among others.
Joel A. Dvoskin, Ph.D., ABPP (Forensic)
Dr. Dvoskin is a Senior Psychologist with Threat Assessment Group, Inc. (TAG). He has specialized experience in mediating disputes within workgroups, managing workplace violence issues in heavily unionized environments, and conducting on-site interventions with threatening employees. He teaches on the faculty at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Before the Storm: New Approaches for Identifying & Preventing Workplace Violence
The following transcript is from a live webinar that was hosted by VideoSurveillance.com on October 4th, 2012.
Beth Mirza: Hello, and thank you for joining us for today's panel discussion, "Before the Storm: New Approaches for Identifying, and Preventing Workplace Violence," sponsored by VideoSurveillance.com. My name is Beth Mirza and I will be moderating today’s panel discussion, and today we are going to focus on the issue of violence in the workplace. Let me introduce our panelists. We have three:
Joining us from Tucson, Arizona, Joel Dvoskin PhD is Professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine; a Clinical Psychologist and Diplomat in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology; and fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychology Law Society. He also works with the Threat Assessment Group in Newport Beach, California. He will discuss signs of future or imminent workplace violence predictors and warning behaviors.
Next up we have Tess Taylor PHR. She is owner of Content Right Now; Managing Editor of the HR Writer; and Content Manager for Benefit Focus in Charleston, South Carolina. Tess is a Human Resources professional with 14 years of corporate experience in the environmental, healthcare, technology and manufacturing sectors. She will be discussing best practices in establishing workplace violence policies, screening and terminating employees. as well as preventing outside risk.
From Portland, Oregon we have Josh Daniels. He is president of VideoSurveillance.com. He is an ardent entrepreneur with years of experience in the security and the IP video surveillance markets. His business experience and his vast industry knowledge have been instrumental in helping countless organizations improve their safety and security efforts. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and the Wharton School, and he will discuss the latest security technology.
And I am Beth Mirza. I am the Manager of Online News Content for SHRM online. I have been with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in Alexandria, Virginia for 11 years, and have reported on many aspects of HR, including employment law, employee relations, and safety and security in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management is the world largest association devoted to human resource management.
Now let’s turn to the topic at hand. Workplace violence is a serious issue for many employers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that nearly 2 million American workers report an incident of workplace violence each year. The Society for Human Resource Management’s workplace violence survey, which is published this year, found that over one-third of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence.
Workplace violence is a costly issue for employers as well. The 2011 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reports assault and violence acts as the 10th leading cause of non-fatal occupational injuries at a worker’s compensation cost of $590 million dollars during 2009. Workplace violence unfortunately can turn extremely injurious and fatal. In 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 780 workers were killed as a result of violence and other injuries. The impact on female workers seems to be disproportionate. Of the 375 fatal work injuries involving female workers 21% involved homicides, and nearly 2 out of every 5 homicides the assailant was a relative. Almost all of them were spouses or domestic partners. So, the impact that domestic violence has on the workplace is profound.
As far as other costs that are tallied when it comes to workplace violence, in 2003, Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that domestic or intimate partner violence cost employers $727 million dollars in lost productivity with more than $7.9 million dollars in paid work days lost each year. So, with all that in mind, and that’s a lot to think about, we’re going to turn to our panelists who have prepared some remarks to share with all of us and then we’re going to open up the discussion to your questions. So Joel, would you like to start us off?
Dvoskin: Thank you. The first thing I want to share is that if you read the newspaper you would think the workplace violence problem that you need to attend to is mass homicide in the workplace, and while that is certainly a humongous problem, and even one such event is tragic and catastrophic, an awful lot of harm gets done with much less serious incidents of workplace violence that happen every day and that affect productivity, that affect the morale of workers, the work experience of workers, and the product that consumers receive. So, a comprehensive workplace violence prevention project isn’t just aimed at the prevention of the very rarest event of mass homicide; it’s also intended to create an environment where every single employee feels safe, respected, and fairly treated so that violence of all kinds can be prevented.
The second important point I want to make is that despite what you read about profiles or warning signs of workplace violence, there is no profile of a person who’s going to commit a severe act of workplace violence. In fact, profiles are just another word for stereotypes, and stereotypes blind us to real risks. What we do know is that there are signs of troubled employees and troubling situations that if left unattended will generally get worse instead of better. So if a company knows that they have a troubled employee and they don’t do anything to get that person help, it’s relatively unlikely that the person is going to get better or solve their problems without any positive intervention. The same thing with troubling situations: for example, racial tension in the workplace may not result in a mass homicide but it can dramatically affect the experience of workers, their productivity, and can result in less serious forms of workplace violence such as bullying or simple assaul which have their own negative effects on the productivity of the workplace. So what that means is that your strategies should have the following principles: the first one is to teach your managers to treat all of your employees in a manner that is safe, respectful, and fair.
The second thing is to teach supervisors and leaders, including labor organization leaders such as union stewards, how to recognize troubled people in troubling situations as early as possible and to report them so that something can be done about them. Now, the next principle is that if you want people to report troubled coworkers in troubling situations, you have to have a presumptively beneficent response to such reports. In other words, your response must be helpful instead of punitive. If you punish people when they seem scary or appear to be troubled, then people are either going to stop reporting because of fears of retaliation or because they’re worried about a friend’s well being. They’re going to stop reporting things. They’re going to stop asking for help. Later on, I’m sure we’re going to get some questions about domestic violence, and one of the principles we entertain pretty religiously, is that you don’t punish victims – even if that would be an easy solution.
So, if someone is being threatened by a domestic partner, husband or a wife and the threat’s very serious, often then the question is “Why don’t we just fire them? They’re bringing danger to the workplace.” We can make the problem go away by terminating the person. The first reason not to do that is that it’s a rotten thing to do to a human being who’s a victim, instead of a perpetrator. It’s not fair, and it feels bad to do that. But even if you’re selfish and greedy, it is a stupid thing to do anyway because if you get a reputation for punishing victims, victims will stop coming forward and telling you when they have been threatened by a spouse or a domestic partner. As a result, you will be prevented from taking the steps necessary to protect the workplace from that violence. So, you need to have a partnership with victims where they feel safe telling you about lethal dangers so you can do something about it. The only way to do that is to not punish people for being victims.
In essence what we’re talking about is to identify troubled employees – not to punish them – but to get them help, and the earlier you identify them the less costly the help is, both in terms of the monetarily to the business and the life cost to the employee. If you wait until somebody makes a lethal threat and tells you,”I’m going to kill my boss,” now your options are very few and relatively dire. We want to identify troubled employees in troubling situations as early as we possibly can, and respond in a helpful way as oppose to a punitive way. By doing so, we’ll create an environment where people feel comfortable coming forward when they are worried about the well-being of a friend and not only will we prevent acts of mass murder but we will prevent less serious forms of interpersonal violence and violence aimed at the person themselves such as suicide, suicide attempts, drug addiction, etc.
Basically, the Threat Assessments Group has a relatively simple corporate philosophy: we want to create an environment where people are safe, respected, and fairly treated, and where people feel comfortable reporting concerns about a coworker who’s in trouble or in a troubling situation, and the company needs to respond with help instead of punishment. When you do that, our data show that you can immediately and dramatically improve the safety of any workplace.
Mirza: Great, thank you Joel. Let’s turn to Tess and see if you can bring in an HR perspective about how employees can come to management to share what might be troubling them about a co-worker or a situation in their lives? How does HR kick in?
Tess Taylor: Thank you Beth, and Joel those are some great pointers. Today, I just want to share some best practices for establishing a workplace violence policy, because it really is up to you as a business owner or HR manager to prevent these things from happening in the first place. There are some ways that you can do this within your own organization. First, if you’re concerned about possible risks of violence, in your particular workplace. For instance, if you work in an industry that has high turnover because maybe it’s a stressful work environment, you’ll want to take the time to work with a local security firm to identify ways to prevent and reduce violence at work. And one way to do this is to do a walk-through to evaluate what areas of your company may be at risk both from inside and outside sources, and of course don’t forget about those threats from email and social media sites, which a lot of time can make employees feel unsafe or threatened due to conflicts online. Another thing you want to do is to communicate a zero tolerance policy for any form of violence.
Workplace violence, as it’s defined, is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or any other disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite where an employee might feel threatened in some way. And this can include some very insidious forms such as bullying, professional disrespect, racism, sexism, and sometimes going as far as making verbal threats or physical gestures, and that’s both on and off the job. And this also goes for violence that comes from the outside, such as customers, visitors, spouses, boyfriends, or family members, so this is something to be mindful of.
Again, as a responsible organization, you must carefully conduct all pre-employment criminal background checks for all new hires to rule out anyone who may have a history of violence, and you should state that you have a zero tolerance policy for any type of behavior that could be threatening or demeaning to an employee. Make sure you state this clearly at all your new employee orientation sessions and in training meetings, and make sure it’s written in the employee corporate handbook. Include specific steps for reporting any events to HR immediately. Now to facilitate this, you’ll definitely want to encourage an open door communication system for all your employees – and this goes back to Joel’s point – if employees feel comfortable and have the confidence, they can step into the HR office or their manager’s office anytime they need to talk about a problem with a coworker, a spouse, manager, or even a customer that’s causing them grief. This is especially important because communication can bridge the gap between employees who are struggling in their personal lives or on the job with other co-workers, or even with their managers. So, providing a safe space where they can seek guidance and support without any fear of reprisal is absolutely critical to reducing workplace violence from happening in the first place.
Another thing I’d like to talk to you about is to make sure there is a system for you to report any suspected employee tensions or even conflicts with your management team itself. This goes back to having an open door policy for your company as a whole. As you develop your written guidelines for violence prevention, make sure it includes a communication policy that encourages employees to report this to a supervisor or to HR immediately. Don’t wait – let someone know what’s going on. This also goes for employees who are experiencing violence at home and might need some support to get out of a bad situation. Beth already mentioned that in nearly 2 out of 5 homicides to female workers, the assailants were relatives and a lot of time they were spouses or domestic partners. So it’s very important to be aware of any potential threats or violence that could harm one of your employees.. And of course if an incident occurs, have a plan in place to take immediate action, document it, and make sure you notify the authorities immediately if it’s appropriate.
Even with a well-developed workplace violence prevention program in place, sometimes workplace violence can still occur. This means that you need to be prepared with a system for taking action to protect your employees, your property, your customers, and then have a way to document and report the events swiftly.
As an HR professional, I have personally experienced episodes where there was workplace violence. For example, there was a workplace that I was involved in – it was a manufacturing environment – and unbeknownst to management there a love triangle going on. A female employee came to me and told me that she had broken up with one of the employees there and was now dating one of the other employees. It became a volatile situation to where one of the employees, the ex-boyfriend, actually shoved and assaulted the new boyfriend.
Unfortunately we had to get the authorities involved, but because we knew about it we were able to defuse anything further from happening, and were able to handle it swiftly and make sure it was taken care of before anyone else was in danger or hurt. So be prepared; prevention is always important. One easy way to do this is to add a workplace violence section directly into your emergency response plan, and you can assign a designated area where employees, if they had to, could escape to safety if something happened on site such as a back office or a parking lot. Make sure that you instruct employees to notify the authorities should an event occur off site. Have a printed phone number for the local police and your fire department available near all phones if possible.
Another way to offset and prevent violence from happening is to assign a team leader for each department, and this is someone who can guide employees in the event of violent actions happening onsite. As an HR person, you need to make sure you have an updated list of emergency contacts for your staff members, so that if you have to alert family members, or the authorities, you have that information. And make sure you have a local security firm on contract for any follow-up consulting, education, and support for the employees. Because workplace violence often centers on an unsuspected change of status for an employee – such as a termination or a disciplinary meeting – I’d like to leave you with the following guidelines for handling these types of meetings: First of all, if you have to discipline or terminate an employee, make sure that you, number one, respect the individual; they are a human being, they have feelings, and have financial needs so it can be a very upsetting situation to be in as an employee, so put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Second, make sure that you schedule any meetings of this nature at the end of the work week, at the end of the shift. And the reason that I say this is because it gives the employee the privacy to talk with you and the management team, and also it’s more dignified for them if they get upset and they need to leave. They can be escorted off quietly, and not in front of their peers. That can often help, and it can defuse a lot of upset; they have the weekend to think about it, in other words. Another thing you can do is offer support or alternatives if you have to discipline or terminate an employee such as career counseling or post-job support so they can get on their feet and figure out what they need to do to improve their life. And of course every HR person will tell you this: make sure you document everything that happens. Have another person there, a manager and document everything so you can back it up if it’s a problem. I hope that these tips will help you in your organizations, and hopefully we won’t see too many more incidents of employee violence in the workplace anytime soon so thank you for your time.
Mirza: Thank you Tess. Thank you so much for those tips, they’re really valuable. Josh can you tell us some tools that employers can use to safeguard their property and workers?
Josh Daniels: Sure, thanks Beth. My name is Josh Daniels and I’m with VideoSurveillance.com. We’re a leading virtual integrator of video surveillance systems. We have thousands of customers around the world to which we’ve provided these kinds of systems, which can be used for prevention and investigation of workplace violence if it occurs. First I want to talk about new technology in the video surveillance arena. There’s been a very dramatic transition from analog technology – often referred to as CCTV or closed-circuit television – to digital technology, which is IP technology. That’s occurred over the last five or ten years, and it’s dramatically changing the functionality of these video surveillance systems. Additionally, we have seen high-resolution video surveillance footage through megapixel cameras, HDTV network cameras, and also compatibility with remote devices like Smartphones such as iPhones and Androids, and tablets like iPads. The end result has been that video surveillance today is more powerful, easy-to-use and cost-effective than it has ever been.
I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the goals of a video surveillance system and how they can help prevent workplace violence. Primary goals that we identify are to deter incidents from both inside and outside threats, as well as to prevent accidents in the workplace. Also, they allow the employer to respond quickly during and after an incident, and then finally to document evidence if needed for an investigation after an incident.
Let’s talk about outside threats first. Primary outside threats can result in property crime, theft, physical crime, threats, assault or worse from employees, disgruntled ex-employees, or family or friends as mentioned previously. It’s really a best practice for a video surveillance system to capture facial recognition of all visitors to a facility, which would allow for multiple camera presentations in key areas to get good facial video footage.
We also recommend combining obviously-placed cameras with discreet cameras, and planning for challenging light conditions. With regards to areas, we recommend covering high-traffic entrance and exit areas, as well as parking lots, garages and driveways, which allow for identification of suspicious vehicles or suspect vehicles. This prevents vehicle break-ins, assaults, and robberies. We also recommend creating a visitor management policy to prevent outside threats and really track the ebb and flow of visitors to a facility or company.
With regard to inside threats, which predominantly come from employees in the form of employee vs. employee violence or employee vs. employee theft, we recommend cameras in common work areas, such as break rooms, storage rooms, and locker areas.
Let’s talk about accident prevention: video surveillance can help to enforce safety policies in the workplace. They allow for the review of video for violations both before and after the fact, and also cameras and monitors can remind employees that video surveillance is actively occurring. Video surveillance systems can also document potential liabilities like slip and fall activities, protect against fraudulent claims, and allow employers to respond quickly to real incidents that occur.
I’d like to wrap up with some best practices recommended by VideoSurveillance.com. We recommend that you audit a video surveillance system regularly, verifying that a system works on at least a quarterly basis, and that it’s capturing the quality of video that’s needed for your needs, which typically relates to facial recognition. So, an audit is a best practice. Additionally, we recommend creating a post-incident process, which allows for a workplace to practice searching and exporting video for police and other authorities to investigate. We recommend locking your server room to keep the recorded video safe from criminals or employees that might have designs on the video. We also recommend a UPS power supply backup in the event of a power outage. Research has shown that there is more crime during a power outage, and it’s really ideal to have cameras continue recording if power is lost. Finally, it’s important to plan for the future with a video surveillance system. We recommend expandable systems that can grow with an organization. Without fail, our customers all want to add more cameras over time to their systems, and so we recommend planning for that. With regards to future-proofing, we recommend using digital or IP cameras as opposed to analog cameras, and to use high-quality cabling like CAT-5 and CAT-6. Thanks Beth.
Mirza: Thanks so much Josh. Now we’re going to kick off our question-and-answer session and we’re going to start with a kind of an overall question for all the panelists to chime in on, and then get into more specific things. Let’s start with this question: “How can a company strategically and holistically address the issue of workplace violence? In other words, what are the different roles that need to be played within the company and who should be responsible for them? Tess talked about her specific incident of working at an employer and addressing workplace violence specifically. Now Tess, I don’t know if you had a threat management team or a crisis response team, or if it was just you who jumped in on this situation. Tell us how that played out and then maybe we can go to Joel and Josh to talk about different roles or different employees and the different responsibilities in a situation like that. So, Tess?
Taylor: Sure, I’d be glad to talk about this. In my situation it was a small manufacturing plant so naturally several employees ran to my office to let me know that the activity was happening. I was aware that there was some tension, so I was the person who had to handle it, but we also had to involve a couple of the floor managers to actually restrain the two gentlemen that were involved, and then we called the police. I would recommend that there definitely be a safety officer on staff for your company if you’re able to assign someone who maybe has a background in on-site hazard prevention safety, or maybe even someone who has a background in the medical field or law enforcement, somebody who can understand what happens when somebody loses it. I definitely think there should be someone assigned, and if you have a large company there should probably be someone on each floor in each building to manage that.
Mirza: And Joel, what do you think of the companies that you’ve worked and their best practices as far as this is concerned?
Dvoskin: A lot of our companies are quite large Fortune-100 companies, where they’re doing very expensive comprehensive programs, training managers and union leadership, and so forth. We also have clients of the Threat Assessment Group that are smaller companies who have been creative about looking for ways to intervene that are very cost-effective. For example, they might team up with other nearby companies to provide training at a lower cost because you can get more people trained at the same time. I think the most important thing though is that every single company, as Tess suggested, should have a workplace violence policy. Another example: Can you bring a gun into the workplace? If somebody starts waving a gun around, and you try to fire them, but they find out that you don’t have a policy against possessing a gun in the workplace, you may not be able to do anything about it. And, it’s not fair to hold people accountable for rules that don’t exist. So, a comprehensive workplace violence policy is important.
I do want to say that zero tolerance is imperative, but it doesn’t mean that every incident gets the same response. All it means is that we don’t ignore incidents of threat or violence in the workplace, but it doesn’t mean that we stop using our common sense. Each incident and each threat typically requires reasonableness, thought, and often additional information before you make an informed judgment about what the right intervention is. Typically, ignoring it is the wrong call; that’s why we like the idea of zero tolerance. But, the term has become misused sometimes, because in some places it means, for example that we treat every threat the same and then the person gets fired. So, somebody at a surprise employee birthday party says, “I’m going to kill you guys for throwing this surprise party!” and then the employer ends up terminating somebody who really didn’t threaten anyone because of an abuse of this zero tolerance concept. So, I just wanted to clear that up.
The main thing is to start by doing the things that the other two panelists mentioned, and that is to start a policy and have the hardware in place to support it, and if not, you want to do a comprehensive audit of the likely dangers to your workplace and then do something about it.
Mirza: Great, those are good tips. Thank you Joel. Josh what are some best practices that your client companies use? What do different people have as their responsibility, and who do they have on staff to address these issues?
Daniels: So our customer base, Beth, ranges from very small companies to Fortune-100 companies, and so their staffing and their resources really run a wide spectrum. In a small company, it’s typically the owner of the business or a manager who may be responsible for technology such as video surveillance, and monitoring and reacting with that. In a larger company it might be a CSO or what’s called a Chief Security Officer or could be part of the information technology, or IT staff, and to further Joel’s comment, I think video surveillance technology is part of a multi-faceted approach that employers can use to provide a safer workplace. A video surveillance system and policy dovetails with workplace safety to the extent that it’s used appropriately and disclosed in an employee handbook as we do at our company. It makes employees aware that the employer values a safe workplace and has expectations in that regard.
Mirza: Absolutely, thank you Josh. Now we’re going to open the floor to some questions that today’s participants have submitted. Some of them were submitted in advance, and here’s one that came in earlier: “It’s the old conundrum: Where should HR stand on balancing an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy against the employer’s business justification for surveillance?” Tess, do you want to start this one off?
Taylor: This is a common concern among business owners, that they don’t want to invade upon their employees’ privacy, but yet at the same time it’s their property and they want to make sure that there are no problems. Let’s make the point that there has to be a real business justification for monitoring your work site, but at the same time, you have to handle it with respect to the employees and specific areas that will be monitored. For example, it’s illegal for an employer to monitor bathrooms and dressing rooms, but it’s not illegal to monitor common work spaces and entryways. You need to have common sense about how you employ a monitoring system in your workplace. Keep in mind also that employers can monitor employees’ use of the internet, and email and telecommunication use, while on the job. Although the Electronic Communications Privacy Act does prohibit unauthorized interception of some electronic communications, it is important to communicate within your corporate policy about all of the forms of monitoring that you do plan to use. And then have all your employees sign an agreement, so that they understand this when they’re hired. It’s a good way to still respect their rights, but at the same time protect your business from any problems.
Mirza: And maybe being transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is a good way to sell the employees on the need for a security or monitoring system. Joel, what do you think about that? What’s your stand on the expectation of privacy vs. business justification?
Dvoskin: I’m sad to report to you that most Americans think privacy died in their childhood. We’re not a very private society anymore, for better or for worse. But what I think people resent are feeling betrayed. I like the idea of transparency, but I do want to add that there are times when surreptitious recording is legally and ethically justified for specific reasons, so I wouldn’t go as far to say that you should never use surreptitious recording, either audio or visual recording, but in general I think you want to be clear with people on the rules of engagement. If you do it right, it will actually improve morale because to them it feels like you’re spending money on them to make them feel safer, and that can help morale a lot, if it’s done the way. And I agree with Tess when she suggested that you let people know what the policy is in advance and you keep your word about the promises that you make.
Mirza: Absolutely, that’s great. Clear communication with employees will always get you far. Josh, I want to take it to you now. Could you talk about some of the latest advancements in surveillance technology that employees might be seeing in their workplace sometime soon?
Daniels: The biggest advancement, Beth, has been in the form of the cameras. Cameras historically have been lower-technology analog cameras, and they’ve been relatively unintelligent devices. Today we’re seeing an abundance of higher quality, intelligent devices like IP cameras, which are on a network and have network functionality and features. We’re also seeing much higher quality video resolution – as high as you would see with HDTV on a television screen. We’re seeing edge storage, where storage can be maintained at the edge of a network, and also viewing on remote devices, which could be Smartphones or tablets. This allows for remote access to a facility which is a really powerful construct that previously was not really available before the Internet and these newer devices. There’s also logic built into these devices and networks today, where there can be alerting and notification if certain events occur of if certain criteria are met, and that can be used to help optimize workplace safety.
Mirza: That’s very interesting and really exciting, and makes peoples’ jobs a lot easier in some instances. Now I’m going to take a little bit of a different turn now. If we could talk about the effect of domestic violence in the workplace, and this is another question for Joel and Tess. Joel, let’s go to you first. How can an employer best manage a situation in which an employee is being harassed by his or her abuser while at work, and how can the employer maintain the safety of the victim’s co-workers as well?
Dvoskin: These are the most difficult workplace violence cases we manage, almost without exception. The cases that we’re managing on a regular basis are usually pretty straightforward and we’re able to give people advice that resolves the problem pretty quickly, but the nights I have trouble sleeping involve domestic violence cases. And that largely has to do with what I said earlier about the prohibition against being perceived as a company that punishes victims is almost absolute. That’s a bad thing to do for reasons I said earlier. On the other hand, we want to make sure victims or potential victims are aware of their options. Now, some companies have done this in really clever ways. For example, one of our clients shared with us an innovation where they put leaflets about domestic violence shelters in the city – where someone could go for legal assistance and information for free – in the ladies’ restroom where men would be very unlikely to see it and where a woman could read that privately without losing her ability to share her problem with someone else. We don’t want to take choices away from people at a time when they’re being coerced or threatened. We haven’t talked about the EAP, but we’re also big fans of Employee Assistance Programs that can provide emotional support for women during a very difficult time, and can often be very helpful.
Hardware solutions, such as the ones Josh mentioned, work too. If you have a picture of the person and know what he or she looks like, it’s now very easy to put that on the computer screen of security staff, which hopefully has access to ingress and egress points with regard to the workplace so you can actually know when they arrive before they get to their intended victim. If we have a targeted victim, we may take very specific steps, including in some cases the hiring of off-duty police officers who are armed at the entrance of the workplace. That way, if the person shows up and misbehaves, they’re not committing a crime. But if they commit an assault on a police offer who’s off-duty, then that’s a felony, and we find that police officers – and especially when they call in other police officers – get a very quick response. So there are times when that’s our recommendation.
Every case is unique and needs to have a knowledgeable, in some cases without outside consultation, a trained internal team to look at the specific facts of the case. There is no formula for how to handle these cases safely. Every one of them requires a different response. There are times when it’s not only in the company’s best interest but also in the victim’s best interest for that person to relocate. It may be in the company’s best interest not to terminate them, but to make it possible to separate them in a positive way, and move them to a different place or perhaps to a different employer where they’re safer. Not as punishment, but as a favor for the intended victim. So, every case has a different set of responses.
Mirza: Absolutely. Tess, what would you recommend for employers to do if faced with this situation?
Taylor: Well, it’s an employer’s responsibility to investigate any reported acts of harassment, bullying or threat in the workplace, and going back to basic HR law, it mandates that employers are to take steps to minimize any type of treat in the workplace, or where there are perceived threats. So HR professionals and employers are responsible for investigating that and getting the facts before they act. But I mean, in most cases what should happen is the two employees, for instance, should be separated during the investigation process, whether one’s reassigned, like Joel mentioned, or suspended if it warrants it for a period of time until the investigation is completed. And that can be done either internally or by an outsourced security firm to conduct the investigation. But of course, make sure this is documented and that the victim and the offender are respected during the process. In severe cases, there needs to be some recourse; there needs to be some way for the victim to feel safe, and therefore sometimes you have to go as far as having the person escorted off the property – it really depends on how severe the case is, really.
Mirza: Definitely. Thank you. Alright, we have another question for Josh: "What minimal equipment is required for Internet viewing of cameras, from home, Smartphones… what are some options for employers?"
Daniels: Historically, surveillance has been monitored by what’s called Central Station Monitoring, where you actually have people who are in a facility watching a bank of TV monitors and looking for threats in a facility. And research has shown that this is not only an expensive way to monitor video surveillance, but it’s also relatively low quality because admittedly humans can’t watch multiple screens simultaneously and monitor for threats. What we find is that Central Station Monitoring is somewhat of an old paradigm, and today’s cameras, particularly IP cameras, are readily able to communicate with web browsers on computers as well as Smartphones and tablets. Really all that’s required is an IP camera that’s relatively modern as well as Internet access at the camera location. The viewing would be through a web browser on a computer or on a Smartphone or tablet, or also through an application or app.
Mirza: That sounds cost-effective that you wouldn’t have to have a dedicated space to watch screens all the time, or even have one dedicated person to watch the screens all the time.
Daniels: Right, and there’s no fees on these programs; this is just default functionality with the cameras that is provided, so there’s not a service that needs to be subscribed to or any hidden, or ongoing fees.
Mirza: That’s great. Alright, I’m going to swing it back again to Joel and Tess to talk a bit more in general about workplace violence. This is an interesting conundrum that some employers face: What happens when there’s a violent event that involves employees but occurs off-site, that doesn’t occur at the employer’s work area? Whether it’s between two employees who maybe met somewhere else like at a sporting event or a bar, and got into an altercation or maybe just one employee who got into a fist of cuffs overnight… how should the employer address it, and if so, how should the employer do so? Tess let’s start with you.
Taylor: It’s definitely a twist and a different situation, but it does happen. If the employees are actually on the clock, they are officially still your responsibility as a company, so you should definitely, as soon as you hear about it, bring the employees in individually and find out what happened. If you can moderate, see if it’s a misunderstanding and how severe it really was. If someone was hurt, you would have to notify the authorities. If it’s during work hours or work time, for example you may have remote employees, sales folks or drivers, who have injured someone, so you have to take action – it’s your responsibility as a company to do that. Off the clock gets tricky because what employees do on their own time is their responsibility, unless you get into a situation where you’ve got two employees at a company function who get into it. Again, a lot of time it just takes some moderation, finding out what happened, and take action accordingly, such as separating the employees, or having management really observe what’s going on. Sometimes you just have to take initiative and address it.
Mirza: Joel what’s your take on the situation?
Dvoskin: Again, case by case. But the first question I ask when something happens off property is how do we know about it? And in fact it may be work-related or it may not. Another issue is the degree to which it is indicative of a troubled person as I said earlier. So, if someone comes to work with a black eye and says, “I got drunk and got into a fight at a bar last night,” they may not have misbehaved at work so you can’t discipline them. But we don’t want to discipline them anyway, we want to consider the possibility that they have a drinking problem, or that they have an anger problem or both, in which case EAP or their healthcare benefits may be enormously helpful to the person to get them treatment for a problem that could then surface at work. The idea of a presumptively helpful response is your best friend here.
So it is relevant to the workplace; it becomes relevant to productivity and morale of your co-workers, but most importantly it’s a really bad way to live your life. If you get in a lot of bar fights, then bad things are going to happen. And so that’s probably a person who needs some help. We want to get them help not because they’re going to commit an atrocity, but because they’re a human being who works for us, and we’d rather have them be healthy and productive than scaring their co-workers and getting into fights because they drink too much. Again, every case is deserving of its own, and I guess I should add one thing which is that if an argument starts at work and erupts into violence later on off-premises, you should probably treat that as an incidence of workplace violence presumptively and investigate it as you would have pretty thoroughly if had taken place on-site. And it may involve consultation with your counsel about whether or not this has implications for liability with the company.
Mirza: Regarding that point, we have several questions about how to prepare for different security measures. Who do you talk to in order to get ready for this, what kind of systems should we use, etc. so Josh, if you could talk a bit to those about setting up surveillance in a piecemeal fashion? Are there places that should be more under surveillance than other areas? What’s the minimum that people can start with?
Daniels: I think that’s a good set of questions. In today’s economic times, certainly businesses are constrained with regards to economics, and so we here at VideoSurveillance.com recommend that systems are future-proofed by their design from the outset. Really, a good video surveillance system can start with as little as one high-quality camera, as long as the design and configuration of the system allows for future expansion. We recommend focusing on digital or IP cameras as opposed to analog cameras because of the future-proofing that those IP cameras provide. We recommend fewer, better quality cameras as opposed to more cameras that are lower-quality. You can buy a video surveillance system at a Costco or a Wal-Mart, and in our experience most of these systems’ cameras are low-cost but extremely low in quality. Having a lot of cameras doesn’t necessarily cover or meet the needs of a facility. It’s better to have fewer cameras that are higher quality, and I would also say, that they try not to capture everything. You’re not going to be able to capture everything in common areas. I would focus on areas of ingress and egress, as well as common areas where there is a lot of activity and personnel.
Mirza: And Tess and Joel, I think there are some low-cost or free community resources that employers can tap into as well like local domestic violence shelters, which might have speakers to address employees and talk about their services and behaviors that people should look out for, etc. Or law enforcement can often times come and address employee groups. Tess and Joel, should employers talk to psychologists or threat management groups in order to prepare workplace violence policies?
Dvoskin: In all cases, you want to maximize the way that you use the free resources in the community, for sure. But some of them are double-edged swords. For example, if you call police about an incident, that’s not always a good thing because you’re going to lose control over the response to that incident. Police aren’t going to ask for advice about what they should do and shouldn’t do; they’re going to take over the situation. Sometimes that’s appropriate, sometimes it’s not. Some police departments will allow you to make information-only reports to say “We’ve had a threat, we don’t want you to come over right now but we just want you to know about it in case things get worse. And we’ll keep you posted on that.” Many of our clients we encourage – in fact all of our clients – we encourage to have real good relationships with the local police precinct or police department. Invite them out for a luncheon even when there is no crisis, so that they know you, and you know them. We often recommend sharing architectural plans of a workplace, so that if God forbid there is a hostage crisis or some need for police to intervene, it’s very helpful for them to know the physical layout, including as Josh suggested earlier, how many ways are there in and out of the building.
What are the likely threats that you most care about protecting, and what is it that you’re most worried about protecting them from? That should guide you. And I can’t agree more enthusiastically with what Josh said a minute ago; I would much rather have a few cameras that are high-quality, and well placed than a bunch of cheap cameras that give you bad images and that are helter-skelter all over the place. Again, that’s something that your consultant company, whether it’s VideoSurveillance.com or whoever you use, that should be advising you about the most strategic ways to use these hardware resources to create a safer workplace. Giving your employees good information is almost always a helpful thing to do. I like to recommend that if you do have EAP, do it through EAP so that those resources are integrated, because often it’s going to be the EAP provider who’s going to make the referral to the specific community agency, and it’s a good idea for them to kind of be the grand central station on how those resources get assigned or offered to individual employees.
Mirza: Absolutely. Tess, are there any community resources that you’d like to share that you’ve employed before?
Taylor: Currently, there are organizations that work on primarily business continuity and local community safety hazard type topics, and I know in our communities here in Charleston, we have a team of volunteer safety officers who will actually come onsite and train folks within your company to become safety leaders in the event that there is any type of hazard or accident. We have a lot of hurricanes and things here on the East Coast, so we’re trained on how to respond to those types of events. I know they also teach personal safety and things like that. There are plenty of resources out there. I would suggest offering safety training to all of your employees that are interested, and then and have local security experts come in and give talks and demonstrations to your employees who are interested. Then assign some employees in your team to show aptitude and interest for that, and who want to take on that role.
Dvoskin: Let me add a couple of points: one thing that the local police and many jurisdictions are happy to provide is in the context of community policing, in that they’ll come to your house and make suggestions about how to live a safer life. For instance, cutting down bushes where someone might hide, exterior lighting, etc., and the other thing that I’d like to mention is that I would recommend caution in terms of referring to a local psychologist or psychiatrist. The Treat Assessment Group are certainly not the only people who specialize in assessing the risk of violence, but there are people who specialize in this, and most psychologists, psychiatrists and physicians don’t. So, you wouldn’t ask your primary care physician to do heart surgery, as this is a specialty area. So if you just ask a local psychologist to do a risk assessment and they’re not somebody’s who’s a trained forensic psychologist or psychiatrist with specialized training in risk assessment, that’s not something I would recommend that you rely on.
Mirza: That’s a great point. Okay, we are closing at 3 o’clock Eastern time here, so we will be wrapping up our panel discussion for today. I want to say thank you to all the viewers who joined today’s discussion, and our panelists for sharing their time and expertise.