Immediately after an assault occurs, an employer should focus first on providing for the medical and psychological needs of all affected employees. Other immediate steps include:
The post-incident trauma plan should focus first on meeting the immediate medical and psychological needs of employees as necessary. Employees may also need the services of an employee assistance program or other counseling services.
Provisions for follow-up after medical and psychological treatment, medical confidentiality, and protection from discrimination must be addressed in the plan to prevent the victims of workplace violence from suffering further loss. The plan should also address ways to reduce financial losses to the company caused by absence, lost productivity, and workers' compensation claims.
Immediate debriefings: All affected employees should be included in a debriefing so the cause of the violence and expectations can be discussed, a plan of action can be addressed, and those needing further counseling can be identified.
Though most employees will need only brief intervention, provision should be made for the few who may need longer-term professional assistance. Strategies for identifying these employees and guiding them as smoothly as possible from emergency-centered interventions to more extensive mental health care should be included in the planning.
The EAP may approach these responsibilities in different ways, depending on the size and experience of its staff. In some cases, internal EAP resources may be sufficient, but in others, additional staffing will be necessary. EAP staff members who do not have expertise in traumatic incident counseling may wish to develop in-house expertise or keep close at hand the phone numbers of resources to contact should an incident occur. Potential sources of additional help, for example, private contractors, community mental health resources, university or medical school programs, might be explored.
Since management bears the brunt of responsibility after a violent incident, and can find itself dealing with unfamiliar challenges under high stress, the EAP can be very helpful in facilitating an optimal response. It can provide managers with information on traumatic events and can assist them in analyzing the situation and developing strategies for the organization's recovery. An effective EAP needs to be familiar not only with post-disaster mental health care, but also with management practices that facilitate recovery and with other resources which may need to be mobilized.
To prevent further incidents from occurring and to show their support of the victims, employers should support prosecution of offenders. Accommodate employees after a violent incident in order for them to make court appearances and work with the prosecution. Cooperate with law enforcement authorities to help identify and prosecute offenders through the use of any and all means at your disposal, such as "Crime Stoppers," rewards, etc.
In situations where a disruption has occurred on the job or where there is a belief the potential for violence exists, a supervisor may need to keep an employee away from the worksite to ensure the safety of employees while conducting further investigation and deciding on a course of action.
Immediate, Short-term Actions. Place employee on excused absence (commonly known as administrative leave).
Placing the employee in a paid, non-duty status is an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite. It may also be a good idea to offer the employee the option to work at home while on excused leave if possible.
Detail employee to another position. This can be an effective way of getting an employee away from the worksite where he or she is causing other employees at the worksite to be disturbed. However, this action will be useful only if there is another position where the employee can work safely and without disrupting other workers.
Longer-term Actions. Supervisors are sometimes faced with a situation where there is insufficient information available to determine if an employee poses a safety risk, has actually committed a crime, or has a medical condition which might make disciplinary action inappropriate.
Indefinite Suspension. An indefinite suspension is an adverse action that takes an employee off-duty until the completion of some ongoing inquiry, such as a company investigation into allegations of misconduct. Companies usually propose indefinite suspensions when they will need more than 30 days to await the results of an investigation, await the completion of a criminal proceeding, or make a determination on the employee's medical condition.
Indefinite Enforced Leave. This action involves making the employee use his or her own sick or annual leave (after the 30-day notice period with pay) pending the outcome of an inquiry.
Where the supervisor possesses the relevant information regarding violent, harassing, threatening, and other disruptive behavior, the supervisor should determine the appropriate disciplinary action. The selection of an appropriate charge and related corrective action should be discussed with human resources and legal staff where appropriate. Some options for disciplinary action include:
No matter the option you choose, be sure to coordinate with legal staff to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal law as deemed appropriate.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued important guidance that specifically addresses potentially violent misconduct by employees with disabilities. Although this guidance deals specifically with psychiatric disabilities, it applies generally to other disabling medical conditions. It advises an organization may discipline an employee with a disability who has violated a rule (written or unwritten) that is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Discipline can occur even if the misconduct is the result of the disability, as long as the company would impose the same discipline on an employee without a disability. The guidance specifically states nothing in the Rehabilitation Act prevents an employer from maintaining a workplace free of violence or threats of violence.
For a detailed discussion of all these points, see EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities, EEOC number 915.002, 3-25-97. The guidance is available on the Internet at http://www.eeoc.gov, or a copy can be obtained by calling the EEOC Publications department at (800)669-3362.
It is important to conduct a group debriefing with immediate co-workers after a serious incident of violence has occurred. The purpose of the meeting is to instruct co-workers in how to communicate with the victim/co-worker who is re-entering the job after absence.
It's also important to debrief everyone to keep lines of communication open and to alleviate anxiety and reduce misinformation.
Don't forget to assign a person or persons to be responsible for dealing with the media, if necessary.