Workplace Violence: How to Prepare, Prevent and Plan for What Comes Next

November 19, 2018

Someone walks into your place of business, pulls out a gun, and begins firing. The targets may be specific or they may be random. One of your employees or perhaps a customer will be killed, others seriously injured. Or maybe an unexpected fight breaks out in the office or the plant. Maybe an employee uses a tool as a weapon in a fit of anger. Whatever happens, serious questions need to be addressed:

Could you have done anything to prevent the violent act?

What do you do now?


Between 2000 and 2008, there were an average of seven active shooter events per year. Over the next eight years, that nearly tripled to 19 (153 events total), according to the FBI and the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center.

The Department of Labor reports that victims of domestic violence lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the U.S., which results in a $1.8 billion loss in productivity for employers. Now consider that one in every four women and one in 10 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The problem certainly isn’t going away any time soon.

The CDC also reports that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year and that 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women.  Furthermore, 21 percent of full-time employed adults said they were victims of domestic violence and 74 percent of that group said they’ve been harassed at work.

Is Your Company Ready?

Nearly, 65 percent of companies don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy, according to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Only 20 percent offer training on domestic violence, the survey found. 

The SHRM survey also revealed that 16 percent of organizations have had a domestic violence incident in the past five years, 19 percent had an issue in the past year, and 22 percent did not know.

But employers can take steps before and after an attack to reduce the initial risk, mitigate potential damage, and speed up the recovery for the injured as well as the business.

What Leads to Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence can begin as small incidents that involve negative remarks and inappropriate behavior. Those may not necessarily seem alarming, but they can escalate to violence. Stopping smaller incidents is a much easier task than dealing with the aftermath of a major crisis. 

Each situation is unique and professional judgement or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary. It’s understandable that you may be reluctant to dig into employees’ personal lives but by providing support for abused employees, companies may be able to prevent workplace tragedies. Always take note if you encounter signs of: 

  • Erratic and aggressive behavior
  • Hostile feelings towards an individual or the company
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Distancing from friends and colleagues
  • Changes in work performance
  • Sudden and dramatic changes in home life
  • Financial difficulties
  • Pending criminal litigation
  • Observable threats and plans of retribution

Which Industries Are Most Susceptible?

In 220 incidents that occurred from 2000 to 2016, nearly half (107) took place in an education, retail, or government/military setting. The remainder occurred in a variety of locations in a number of industries.

Health care facilities often have large, vulnerable patient populations of varying ages and abilities to move quickly. They may be dependent on equipment or afflicted with infectious diseases. Hospitals and clinics tend to have multiple entry and exit points, which makes security even more difficult.

Other frequent targets of active shooters include shopping malls, residential and office buildings, hotels, airports, and college and university campuses.

What Can You Do to Prevent an Attack?

While there is no known way to entirely eliminate workplace violence, similar to many other risk exposures, there are a wide range of effective mitigating tools we can use.  These methods generally fall into two categories: engineering and administrative controls.

Engineering Controls can create a barrier between the employee, guest or customer and the hazard. They include precautions such as:

  • Identify lockable doors with a lock icon to provide quick access
  • Control visitor access
  • Restrict facility access from the outside, especially after dark
  • Install locks on doors that lead to staff-only areas, including bathrooms and break areas
  • Identify two exit routes in every building
  • Identify the nearest fire extinguisher and pull station
  • Issue ID badges (minimal personal information) to employees and visitor passes to guests
  • Create better escape routes by making exits more accessible
  • Install panic alarms where employees encounter the public
  • Post signs saying you use security cameras (closed-circuit TV) in and outside the building
  • Provide cell phones and handheld alarms or portable panic buttons for field personnel
  • Increase security patrols, especially during evening and early morning hours
  • Provide adequate lighting and fencing
  • Install emergency phones to automatically call security personnel or 911
  • Install metal detectors (or use handheld models) where appropriate
  • Get to know your law enforcement officers to let them know that you’re implementing these measures

In most workplaces the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers know how to take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.

A well-written and thoroughly implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering and administrative controls, and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence.  It is critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

Administrative Controls are practices, rules, policies, regulations, laws and training that reduce the likelihood for violence. For example:

  • Increase staffing levels so that workers do not work by themselves.
  • Implement a “buddy system” for employees who work with potentially violent clients, patients or inmates.
  • Record assaults, verbal abuses and “near misses” to learn how to prevent similar incidents from recurring.
  • Provide security escorts to parking areas for employees who work late at night or early in the morning. Install bright, effective lighting.
  • Notify security personnel when employees work “off-hours.”
  • Provide training in defusing violent situations, self-defense, escape routes and procedures to follow when violence occurs.
  • Provide sensitive and timely information to persons waiting in line or in waiting rooms. Adopt measures to decrease waiting time.

Many employers already have an Emergency Action Plan (or crisis response plan) that describes procedures to follow during a fire or other emergency such as a hurricane or power loss. Most, however, do not cover workplace violence emergencies. Any plan you develop should be specific to your facility and your employees, including:

  • Notifying the proper authorities (security personnel and the police)
  • Emergency escape procedures and routes
  • Safe places to escape inside and outside of the facility
  • Securing the work area where the incident took place
  • Accounting for all employees if a facility is evacuated
  • Identifying personnel who may be called upon to perform medical or rescue duties
  • Training and educating employees in workplace violence issues and the emergency action plan

Planning For the Aftermath

Recovering from a violent incident or disaster in the workplace can take months, but having a plan and sources of help prior to the event can make the process smoother.

Immediately after the event occurs, employees begin to feel disbelief, denial and shock. In the days and weeks following, they may experience anger and rage and might withdraw from social events—even if they weren’t directly physically harmed in the event.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be invaluable in helping organizations recover. While the leadership team is focused on getting the business back up and running, the EAP assists employees and advises management on how to help employees cope. 

In the days following the event, employee communication is essential. Provide hotlines for them to call and intranets with updates on investigations or changes to building security and meetings. Employees need to know as much as you can tell them to speed the recovery process. 

Make sure your employees know what your company believes is appropriate for them to tweet or post on social media during a crisis event or immediately after. You can also use social media to inform customers and stakeholders after an event occurs, and monitor conversations about the event so that you can correct information and take part in the discussion. And media outlets will want regular updates, so hold news conferences to take control of when and how information is released.

However you choose to handle the aftermath of a violent workplace event, there are several steps you should make sure you take to facilitate both short and long-term recovery:

Short-term recovery after an event:

  • Account for personnel and visitors
  • Make sure medical assistance is available
  • Contact family members
  • Coordinate with law enforcement and emergency services
  • Activate communications outlets for updated information
  • Establish Family Assistance Center
  • Coordinate retrieval of personal belongings

Long-term recovery after an event:

  • Put your business continuity plan into effect
  • Provide grief counseling
  • Connect employees with Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Process workers’ compensation claims or other types of financial assistance

Your Risk Management Should Include Insurance

Resuming normal operations after a traumatic attack can be extremely difficult. Will you be able to recover lost business revenue if you can’t continue operations?

Workers’ Compensation, Business Interruption and General Liability insurance are usually insufficient for fully paying all costs related to a workplace violence event. Named-peril policies explicitly state what they cover. You need to understand what your current policies cover and exclude. Workplace Violence insurance is fast becoming available to help your organization recover.

Does your insurance cover…

  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Ransom
  • Legal Liability
  • Risk Consultants (Prevention)
  • Lost Data and Damaged IT Systems
  • Lockdown

Marsh & McLennan Agency Can Help

An active shooter incident or another violent act may never affect your organization, employees or customers. But that doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real.

To learn more about preparing for and dealing with workplace violence, talk with your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative.

MMA Presents Workplace Violence: Before, During, After

Are you in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area? Join us on December 6 for a free seminar tackling this important topic. Register now at the link above!

Download a pdf of this white paper