Resources - Workplace Violence

Write a comprehensive policy statement

A Policy is a predetermined guide established to provide direction in decision making. It reflects top management goals and objectives objectives related to a given business function within the company. An effective policy is both educational and directive. It informs everyone about expected behaviors and standards and why they are important. It also assigns responsibility to perform certain duties or oversee people and programs.

Advantages of Written Policies

Once a workplace violence program is ready to be implemented, companies must decide whether to issue a written policy statement.

Company programs can also be implemented without a written policy statement. In these companies, employees are often given information about the program (especially whom to call) in training sessions, on posters, in newsletter articles, or by other similar methods. Note: Companies have an inherent right to take action against employees who engage in disruptive or threatening behavior whether or not they have issued a written policy statement.

Policy Statement Contents

A workplace violence policy statement should convey that:
  • All employees are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthful work environment;
  • The policy covers not only acts of physical violence, but harassment, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior;
  • The policy covers incidents involving all interactions between:
    • supervisor and employee
    • employee to employee
    • employee to supervisor
    • employee to non-employee
    • non-employee to employee;
  • The company will respond appropriately to all reported incidents;
  • The company will act to stop inappropriate behavior; and
  • Supervisors and all of the departments involved in responding to incidents will be supported by company management in their efforts to deal with violent and potentially violent situations.

Recommended Approaches

Consider the following recommendations in developing your written policy statement:

Keep it brief. A written policy statement should be brief and simple. Implementation details can be provided in training and in more detailed backup documents. For example, roles and responsibilities of the various departments involved in responding to potentially dangerous situations can be outlined in memoranda of understanding or in operating manuals/instructions rather than in the written policy statement that is issued to all company employees. This approach gives company staff the flexibility they will need to deal creatively with these fluid, unpredictable situations.

Consider the disadvantages of using definitions. There are disadvantages to using definitions of terms such as violence, threats, and harassment in your written policy statement. Definitions can discourage employees from reporting incidents that they do not believe fall within the definition. The reporting system should not deter employees from reporting situations that frighten them. An employee knows a threat or intimidation or other disruptive behavior when he or she experiences it -- definitions are not necessary. If you want to clarify the scope of your organization's concept of one or more of the terms in the policy, you could use examples. For example, you may want to give examples of verbal and non-verbal intimidating behavior.

Another consideration is that definitions are often restrictive and may create legal problems in the future when you are taking disciplinary actions against the perpetrators of workplace violence. Use of definitions can make it more difficult to defend a case on appeal.

Be cautious with "Zero Tolerance." Consider that there could be negative consequences from using the term zero tolerance. It could create legal problems in the future when you are taking disciplinary actions against the perpetrators of workplace violence. Use of the term could make it more difficult to defend a case on appeal because a third party could conclude, however mistakenly and inappropriately, that the company has not considered a penalty appropriate for the particular offense.

There are other possible consequences. The term, "zero tolerance" might appear to eliminate any flexibility an company has in dealing with difficult situations even if this is not intended. Another undesirable side effect is that the appearance of inflexibility can discourage employees from reporting incidents because they do not want to get their coworker fired -- they just want the behavior stopped. This appearance of inflexibility also may discourage early intervention in potentially violent situations.

The sample policy below contains language that is similar to "zero tolerance," but takes care of the previously mentioned concerns. It says the company will not tolerate violent or disruptive behavior and then clarifies what that means by saying "that is, all reports of incidents will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately."

Consult with Legal Counsel. Be sure to consult the company legal department or attorney for the legal implications of your draft policy.

Model Policy for Workplace Threats and Violence

Nothing is more important to (Company Name) than the safety and security of its employees. Threats, threatening behavior, or acts of violence against employees, visitors, guests, or other individuals by anyone on (Company Name) property will not be tolerated. Violations of this policy will lead to disciplinary action which may include dismissal.

Any person who makes substantial threats, exhibits threatening behavior, or engages in violent acts on (Company Name) property will be removed from the premises as quickly as safety permits, and shall remain off (Company Name) premises pending the outcome of an investigation. (Company Name) will initiate a decisive and appropriate response. This response may include, but is not limited to, suspension and/or termination of any business relationship, reassignment of job duties, suspension or termination of employment, and/or criminal prosecution of the person or persons involved.

In carrying out these (Company Name) policies, it is essential that all personnel understand that no existing (Company Name) policy, practice, or procedure should be interpreted to prohibit decisions designed to prevent a threat from being carried out, a violent act from occurring, or a life threatening situation from developing.

All (Company Name) personnel are responsible for notifying the management representative designated below of any threats which they have witnessed, received, or have been told that another person has witnessed or received. Even without an actual threat, personnel should also report any behavior they have witnessed which they regard as threatening or violent, when that behavior is job related or might be carried out on a company-controlled site, or is connected to company employment. Employees are responsible for making this report, regardless of the relationship between the individual who initiated the threat or threatening behavior and the person or persons who were threatened or were the focus of the threatening behavior.

This policy also requires all individuals who apply for or obtain a protective or restraining order which lists company locations as being protected areas, to provide to the designated management representative a copy of the petition and declarations used to seek the order, a copy of any temporary protective or restraining order which is granted, and a copy of any protective or restraining order which is made permanent.

(Company Name) understands the sensitivity of the information requested and has developed confidentiality procedures which recognize and respect the privacy of the reporting employee(s).

The designated management representative is: Name: _______________________________________________
Title: ______________________________________________
Department: _________________________________________
Phone: ______________________________________________
Location: ___________________________________________

You can't always prevent violence because violent incidents are sometimes unpredictable, but you can reduce the risk by planning ahead and being prepared to act swiftly to deal with threats, intimidation, and other disruptive behavior at an early stage.

Source: OPM Office of Personnel Management

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).