Averting Workplace Violence
Commercial properties demand planning and communications
- By Greg Falahee
- Sep 01, 2019
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Security Today.