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Strategies for Preventing Workplace Violence

This Advisor column was originally published in March 2004.

Washington State Legislators have passed two new domestic violence laws during this legislative session that will impact how some employers will deal with employees who are reportedly involved with incidents of domestic violence. 2004's Senate Bill 6161 requires that all police agencies in the state adopt policies to deal with domestic violence incidents involving law enforcement officers. A second bill will restrict law enforcement officers from carrying a weapon into a courthouse if they are a party to a harassment or domestic violence case. These laws are in addition to the federal Omnibus law, which requires, under certain circumstances, that law enforcement officers surrender their weapons if they have been involved in a domestic violence incident.

The legislators have charged the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs with designing, by December 1st of this year, a model policy for how law enforcement agencies will handle domestic violence incidents involving law enforcement personnel.

Although the focus of the new legislation is directed at the law enforcement employer, it is a good time for all employers to review how they currently handle any and all violence related issues that occur in the workplace. Regardless of whether the issue is domestic violence, or a situation in which one employee's behavior escalates from a dispute to a physical altercation, the employer is responsible for what goes on in the workplace, and thus must take steps to stop the offensive/violent behavior. The first step in preventing violence is for all employers to adopt a Workplace Violence policy and a Violence Prevention Program. The list that follows outlines some of the Do's for developing such a policy and program.

Do's For Developing A Workplace Violence Policy

The following are suggested items to include in a workplace violence policy:

  • A statement that employees are not to engage in any threatening and/or intimidating behavior and/or acts of violence in the workplace or on the employer's premises;
  • A description of the behavior/conduct that may be viewed as threatening or violent (this list would not be all inclusive);
  • A statement that an employee may be removed from the workplace temporarily and placed on administrative reassignment while the allegations that the employee violated the workplace violence policy are investigated;
  • A provision that states that while on administrative reassignment the employee is to check in each day with the employer (phone), and remain accessible to the employer (unless vacation/sick leave had been approved prior to placing the employee on administrative leave);
  • A statement that the employee, while on administrative leave, is not permitted to be in the workplace or on the employer's premises;
  • An acknowledgement that the employee may be required to participate in a Fit-For-Duty assessment before returning to duty;
  • A requirement that all employees are to report any incidents of violence. For a law enforcement agency, this reporting should be an obligation that extends to off-duty conduct in which it is alleged that the officer acted to threaten, intimidate, or cause harm to another person;
  • A requirement that all employees are to report to management if they are the subject of a restraining order, or have acted to secure a restraining order.

Do's For Designing A Violence Prevention Program

  • Ensure supervisors and managers understand the workplace violence policy and know what needs to be done if an employee acts in a manner that is threatening or violent;
  • Introduce an awareness campaign that describes the behavior/acts that may be considered threatening, violent, or a precursor to domestic violence;
  • Instruct employees in what steps to take to ensure personal safety if a threat or act of violence is lodged by a citizen, visitor, or coworker, i.e., leave the premises, ask the offending person to leave the premises, call the police;
  • Conduct security surveys of the physical work environment and implement a safety plan for all employees, those assigned to the office and those assigned to the field;
  • Require that employees report all threats and/or incidents of violence that occur in the workplace;
  • Remove the offender from the workplace, and discipline/prosecute him/her accordingly;
  • Identify EAP resources and/or local community agencies that specialize in domestic/family violence and may be available to assist employees in coping with the trauma of an act of violence;
  • Publish Employee Workplace Expectations that state that employees are to act respectfully to coworkers in the workplace and to handle conflict effectively.

These lists are not all-inclusive, but instead provide a sampling of some of the factors that should be considered when developing a Workplace Violence Policy and Violence Prevention Program. For additional information about domestic violence contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, your local domestic violence hotline/agency, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Safety Health and Employee Welfare Division. This federal agency has published a domestic violence awareness handbook entitled "Stop the Cycle of Violence."

For more information about workplace violence prevention programs contact the National Crime Prevention Council, and/or the Department of Justice. Both agencies have information about preventing and responding to workplace and domestic violence.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Janice Corbin and Janet May