Domestic Violence

On April 2, 2007, a University of Washington researcher was fatally shot by her boyfriend who, after shooting her, took his own life. One week later a worker in an office complex fifteen miles from Detroit took the life of one coworker and wounded two others. Troubled employees with troubled situations commit similar acts of workplace violence which is spurring a heightened awareness in the detection and prevention of violent incidents. Violence in the workplace continues to be a growing and tragic reality that too many are ill-equipped to handle.

Gavin de Becker, our nation’s leading expert on the prediction and management of violence, often talks about outbreaks of violence at school or work, and how people involved in shooting tragedies often say, "He/she just snapped", or "No one could have known". According to de Becker these statements simply are not true. In his highly regarded opinion, “People don’t just snap, they progress through a series of stages that are as observable and predictable as watching water come to a boil.".

W. Barry Nixon of The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence, reports that “we are seeing an increase in crime around the country in major urban areas as well as the younger generation’s increased propensity to use force to resolve conflicts. Historically there has been a link between increased crime and workplace violence, but typically there is a longer lag than what is going on currently.”

What are the warning signs?
The list below includes some early warning signs of characteristics and performance deficiencies that may be cause for concern in the workplace. Although these pre-incident indicators do not guarantee an individual will take violent action, the signs should prompt an astute manager to investigate further or coworkers to point out persons to HR or management for possible proactive intervention:

  • Excessive tardiness

  • Increased need for supervision

  • Reduced productivity 

  • Inconsistent work habits 

  • Strained workplace relationships 

  • Inability to concentrate 

  • Violation and disregard for safety procedures 

  • Changes in health and hygiene 

  • Unusual behavior 

  • Fascination with weapons 

  • Substance abuse 

  • Stress 

  • Excuses and blaming others 

  • Depression

Steps an employer should take to protect workers and promote a safe environment:

  • Designate a person responsible for coordinating a company's workplace violence prevention initiative.

  • Train managers and supervisors on the early warning signs of potential violence, what the policy is, and how to address those warning signs. 

  • Implement how it will be a comprehensive workplace prevention program that includes a policy for setting the framework and guidelines for dealing with workplace violence.

    • Include dealing with domestic violence 

    • Ensure to cover mobbing or bullying behavior

  • Have a pre-established emergency protocol in place with local law enforcement which includes a list of individuals to contact.

  • Communicate with employees that the company wants to know when there are threats or incidents, no matter how severe, and show that it is serious about handling these issues. 

  • A periodic risk assessment should be part of the prevention policy to determine what and where your company’s or properties vulnerabilities are. Tie assessments to safety audits to identify problems early such as:

    • Common factors of violence prone organizations

    • Facility risk assessments

    • Individual threat assessments

  • Implement access control on a regular basis. It can take various forms, including sign-in sheets and a camera system, proximity cards, uniformed presence, etc. 

  • Make it clear to tenants and employees that security procedures and precautions are extended to persons familiar to the employer, such as other building tenants, family members and friends.

Fast facts on workplace violence:

  • Number one cause of work related death for women. 

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005, five percent of all private industry businesses experienced workplace violence (approximately 350,000 businesses). 

    • 35 Percent indicated a negative impact on employees. 

    • Only 11 percent implemented a policy change after the incident 

  • The 1998 Supreme Court case (Faragher vs. City of Boca Raton) found that employers must prevent and not just simply react to hostile acts in the workplace.

Additional Resources

If something about your relationship with your partner scares you and you need to talk, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).


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