Averting Workplace Violence

Averting Workplace Violence

Commercial properties demand planning and communications

Today’s property manager has many tasks to complete on a daily basis: navigating the ins and outs of the business, ensuring that all processes, systems and personnel are in place to secure their physical assets, and creating a positive environment for tenants and visitors. Property managers, who act as a liaison between the asset manager/landlord and tenants, as well as a variety of service providers, do not govern the actions of their tenants but act as educators to ensure their tenants are safe and secure.

Workplace violence is a challenging and unpredictable security issue and a pressing trend for property managers in establishing policies and procedures on workplace violence avoidance, particularly if they do not already have a comprehensive plan in place. These policies should place a fundamental emphasis on 360-degree communication, which ensures that tenants, building managers, legal personnel, human resources management, risk management, security staff and law enforcement are involved and working toward shared goals.

Four Categories

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workplace violence falls into four categories: Criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker and personal relationship, which overwhelmingly targets women. While a variety of personal or professional issues can lead to violence in the workplace, one common source is employee termination.

Property managers cannot predict if an employee’s angry spouse will show up on site or if an employee’s financial challenges will lead to violent behavior, but a planned termination gives the manager time to put the resources and protocols in place that can help prevent workplace violence. Proactive property managers work with their tenants to ensure that when an exit interview is conducted, all necessary data is collected. If the terminated employee reacts angrily and issues threats, for example, an established plan of action will prepare the building for possible negative eventualities. Local law enforcement can be alerted, a photo of the aggrieved former employee can be circulated with building security and the employee’s building access can be deactivated immediately. Security personnel are critical in the communication and implementation of any action plan that will limit exposure and create the “avoidance” posture. Property managers are the team leaders in a commercial property and have a considerable amount of responsibility for keeping tenants and visitors safe from violence. While properties may be split into different office spaces or businesses, and each may have their own plan, there should be a violence prevention plan coordinated for the building as a whole. The whole building plan should include who is to be contacted from property management and the necessary steps to take if an incident should occur on the property. Savvy property managers understand that reducing their tenants’ risk and exposure for workplace violence is crucial to the reputation of their property.

Violence Avoidance Plan

The security team should be involved in the implementation of the workplace violence avoidance plan. Through a team approach, and the combined efforts of the property manager and security team, a workplace violence avoidance plan helps ensure minor details do not fall through the cracks and human resources, employee relations and company policies are consistently applied. Security personnel are trained to identify warning signs and initiate emergency response plans, and can also coordinate the dignified, yet controlled removal of the potentially violent employee.

Workplace violence impacts everyone in the workplace – not just traditional, permanent employees. Forward-thinking property managers are auditing their service providers and engaging in screening and background checks for their contracted vendors. Outside service providers or vendors are often a common part of the tenant or property manager’s daily population. They should be screened as would any other employee. Additionally, these contract teams should serve as an extra set of eyes and ears in the effort to prevent workplace violence and should be made aware of response plans should an incident occur.

Each year, nearly 2 million American workers report being a victim of violence at work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of annual workplace homicides at about 400. Despite these disturbing statistics, more than 70 percent of American workplaces do not have a formal program or policy in place to address workplace violence, according to a study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.

The reality is that the vast majority of property managers nationwide have yet to adopt clear workplace violence avoidance policies as well. The security officer at the front desk is often not notified of the pending termination of a tenant’s employee or dangerous and threatening behavior by any employee. The property manager is responsible for coordinating efforts to make sure everyone is aware of these situations. Communication is vital.

Sophisticated property managers are spearheading tenant education programs featuring training that helps everyone understand the signs of potential workplace violence. Violence prevention awareness is critical to the communication process and should be an integral part of new tenant orientation with refresher classes provided on an annual basis to all employees. Concentrated training is advised for managers and first line supervisors who are the eyes and ears of every organization. Physical drills bring the workplace violence plan to life and should include all service providers. A well-trained security team can help facilitate the drill and will outline any missed details.

Not Prepared

Too often, managers and supervisors are unaware of workplace violence issues and are not prepared for the potential impact on the safety of the people who work for them and on their business. Understanding the behaviors that lead to workplace violence, and having the appropriate communication channels in place, are crucial to identifying possible workplace violence issues before they happen.

Key behaviors to look for include:

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  • Depression/withdrawal
  • Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures
  • Repeated violations of company polices
  • Increased severe mood swings
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms, other dangerous weapons and violent crimes
  • Talk of previous incidents of violence
  • Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace (i.e., severe financial problems)
  • Paranoid behavior (“Everyone is out to get me.”)
  • Suicidal comments

While issues such as evictions, harassment, non-payment and public nuisance are part and parcel of what all property managers address, workplace violence has unfortunately become common place and prevention plans should be as well. Property managers should be working in concert with their in-house or contract security provider to conduct a thorough threat assessment to determine the risk of workplace violence incidents at their properties. The team will then develop a plan of action to eliminate or mitigate the identified risks. It is important to constantly work to keep workplace violence a topic of priority with all parties involved.

Adopting workplace violence avoidance policies demands that property managers keep current with pertinent municipal, county and state laws and practices, and develop relationships with local law enforcement.

Workplaces with higher turnover can present increased workplace violence risk, but all commercial properties are ultimately at risk. Many fatal workplace violence incidents have been followed by lawsuits brought by the aggrieved families of the victims. In the factfinding that follows, organizations are legally compelled to provide information to the parties bringing the suit. All too often, managers and supervisors are called to testify to their lack of awareness of violence prevention issues, and management officials must testify as to their organization’s failure to prevent the tragedy. As a result, many companies have agreed to multi-million dollar settlements rather than make a public admission of negligence.

Property managers should review and update plans – but also ensure those plans are being carried out. Managers that work in concert with their tenants, service providers, security and law enforcement to proactively keep workplace violence at bay represent the finest leaders in their field and the future standard of what will be expected from all property managers.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Security Today.

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