December 14, 2022

Workplace Violence Prevention

It was recently reported that two Walmart employees filed a lawsuit against their employer following the shooting by a former employee that took the lives of six coworkers and then his own.  Both lawsuits allege Walmart was negligent in not doing more to safeguard employees.

The next week, Gallup announced the results of a global survey that found nearly one in five adult employees or 23% reported being a victim of workplace violence or harassment.

What’s an employer to do? I believe there is no single answer to this question. Listening is key.  When an employee expresses fear or concern, stop the eye-roll before it starts.  Don’t assume the person is hypersensitive or exaggerating. Similarly, when an employee expresses anger or frustration, be objective. Don’t assume the emotion will turn into physical action. Here are some resources I have found helpful over the years.

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If you have one, use it!  I frequently find employers with EAP’s either do not know their utilization rate or know that it is low.  Often their employees don’t know what the EAP is or how to access it.  I love EAP’s. I think they are a fabulous resource for employees.  Remind employees about this resource that is free to them!
  • Peace, Protective or Restraining Orders. At least 14 states have enacted laws that provide employers with the ability to seek a peace or protective order against an individual that threatens harm in or at the employer’s workplace.  In Maryland, we successfully advocated for a hold harmless clause for employers.  An employer “shall be immune from any civil liability that may result from the failure of the employer to file a petition on behalf of an employee…”
  • Local Law Enforcement. I have found local police to be very helpful in a variety of ways.  Many will provide free workplace violence prevention / active shooter training at your workplace. If there is a current, potential threat, they may also do periodic drive-bys.  Sometimes the simple appearance of a squad car periodically driving through the employer’s parking lot can be enough to deter someone with bad intentions.

As with many employee relations issues, consult with your company’s legal counsel for options that best meet your jurisdiction, needs, and situation.