Table of Contents
1. What is Workplace Violence?
3. Prevention of Workplace Violence
4. Identifying Potentially Violent Situations
5. Responding to Violent Incidents
6. Disclosure of Information
Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, contractors, and other non-Federal employees.
A number of different actions in the work environment can trigger or cause workplace violence. It may even be the result of non-work-related situations such as domestic violence or “road rage.” Workplace violence can be inflicted by an abusive employee, a manager, supervisor, co-worker, customer, family member, or even a stranger. Whatever the cause or whoever the perpetrator, workplace violence is not to be accepted or tolerated.
However, there is no sure way to predict human behavior and, while there may be warning signs, there is no specific profile of a potentially dangerous individual. The best prevention comes from identifying any problems early and dealing with them. Each USDA agency has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place which serves as an excellent, confidential resource available to all employees to help them identify and deal with problems.
It is up to each employee to help make USDA a safe workplace for all of us. The expectation is that each employee will treat all other employees, as well as customers and potential customers of USDA’s programs, with dignity and respect. You can and should expect management to care about your safety and to provide as safe a working environment as possible by having preventive measures in place and, if necessary, by dealing immediately with threatening or potentially violent situations which occur.
Because USDA programs touch the lives of so many persons, you can expect at some point in your career to encounter individuals who don’t share USDA’s core ethic of fairness, dignity, and respect. There are appropriate and effective ways to deal with such persons to avoid or minimize the damage they seek to cause, and we all need to educate ourselves on those methods.
In addition, supervisors and managers have the obligation to deal with inappropriate behavior by their employees and customers, to provide employees with information and training to employees on workplace violence, and to put effective security measures in place.
The following section provides a more detailed description of the responsibilities of various persons or offices.
A sound prevention plan is the most important and, in the long run, the least costly portion of any agency’s workplace violence program. Your agency should have the following programs in place to help prevent workplace violence:
Pre-Employment Screening – An agency should determine, with the assistance of its servicing personnel and legal offices, the pre-employment screening techniques which should be utilized, such as interview questions, background and reference checks, and drug testing if it is appropriate for the position under consideration and consistent with Federal laws and regulations.
Security – Maintaining a safe work place is part of any good prevention program. There are a variety of ways to help ensure safety, such as employee photo identification badges, guard services, and individual coded key cards for access to buildings and grounds. Different measures may be appropriate for different locations and work settings.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – This program is most effective in resolving disputes when a conflict has been identified early and one of the following techniques is used: ombudspersons, facilitation, mediation, interest-based problem solving, and peer review.
Threat Assessment Team – This interdisciplinary team will work with management to assess the potential for workplace violence and, as appropriate, develop and execute a plan to address it.
Agency Work and Family Life Programs (such as flexiplace, child care, maxiflex, etc.) – An agency should identify and modify, if possible, self-imposed policies and procedures which cause negative effects on the workplace climate.
|Prevention of Workplace Violence:|
One of the most critical components of any agency’s prevention program is training. Training is necessary for employees and supervisors, as well as for the staff in offices that may be involved in responding to an incident of workplace violence.
By participating in training sessions conducted by your agency’s Employee Assistance Program, security, conflict resolution, and employee relations staffs, you will get to know experts within the agency who can help when you are confronted with potentially violent situations.
All employees should know how to recognize and report incidents of violent, intimidating, threatening, and disruptive behavior. All employees should have phone numbers for quick reference during a crisis or an emergency. In addition, workplace violence prevention training for employees should include the following topics:
In addition to the training suggested above for employees, special attention should be paid to general supervisory training. The same approaches that create a healthy, productive workplace can also help prevent potentially violent situations. It is important that supervisory training include basic leadership skills such as setting clear standards, addressing employee problems promptly, and using the probationary period, performance counseling, discipline, and other management tools conscientiously. These interventions can keep difficult situations from turning into major problems. Supervisors do not need to be experts in dealing with violent behavior but need to know which experts to call, and be committed and willing to seek advice and assistance from those experts.
The following are areas that should be included in supervisory training:
Agency personnel who serve on assessment and response teams need to be competent in the skill area they are representing, and they need to know when and who to call for outside resources. Participating in programs and training sessions sponsored by government and professional organizations, reading professional journals and other literature, and networking with others in the profession they are representing are all helpful tools for team members to use in preparing to deal with workplace violence situations. In some cases where participation on a team is a collateral duty, employees may need special supplemental training.
Team members also need to understand enough about each other’s professions to allow them to work together effectively. Assessment and response team training should include discussion of policies, legal constraints, technical vocabulary, and other considerations that each profession brings to the interdisciplinary group.
Determining the seriousness of a potentially violent or stressful situation and how to best intervene is the basis of a threat assessment. Since it is impossible to know with any certainty whether a threat is going to be carried out, the agency should always treat threats in a serious manner and act as though the person may carry out the threat.
Your agency handbook on workplace violence will tell you who specifically to contact within your agency when you sense a potentially violent situation. That contact will take whatever action is necessary and appropriate to activate a threat assessment team. The purpose of the threat assessment team is to provide guidance on managing the situation in a way that protects the employees.
Members of a threat assessment team will vary depending on the situation, but may include representatives from:
Threat assessment teams evaluate the risks persons under suspicion may pose to particular targets. The approach and the timing for these evaluations will be specific to the circumstances of the potentially violent situation. Threats from sources outside the agency may require different actions.
Once a threat assessment is completed, management will decide what additional measures are needed to close any security gaps. Where appropriate and not a security breach, management will explain to employees and customers alike what new steps are being taken and why, to alleviate misunderstandings and confusion.
In addition to dealing with immediate situations, agencies also have a responsibility for continuous threat assessment. There are a number of basic security measures that many USDA offices already have in place, sometimes in conjunction with neighboring Federal offices or the facility lessor. In addition, there are ways to create physical barriers between the employee and the hazard, and administrative procedures which can reduce the likelihood for violence. Your agency’s administrative management staff is responsible for putting such measures into place. The Department has provided more detailed information to agencies to help them in that process.
Special Measures for Employees Who Work in the Field. USDA has large numbers of employees who work, literally, in the field, the forest, and the city, sometimes alone. Like other U.S. workers and citizens, USDA field employees are not immune to crime perpetrated against them while on the job, whether the crime is job related or not. Some USDA employees have been threatened while conducting compliance inspections and attacked while surveying forest tracts. Each agency will provide employees with specific safety guidelines appropriate to situations likely to be encountered by its employees.
In general, employees working alone and away from the office should prepare daily work plans and keep a contact person informed of their locations throughout their tour of duty. When necessary and feasible, management can implement a "buddy system" policy or provide for back-up, such as police assistance, so that workers do not enter a potentially dangerous situation alone.
Emergency Plans. Many offices already have emergency plans (also called crisis response plans) that describe procedures to follow during a fire or other emergency. Most, however, do not cover workplace violence emergencies, including bomb threats. These plans should also include violent incidents. Co-located agencies should have one unified emergency plan in place. The plan should be specific to the type of facility, building, and the workers it covers, and should describe:
Outside groups that use USDA facilities should be made aware of USDA’s policy on workplace violence and the procedures for dealing with violent incidents.
ADR processes are designed to help parties resolve conflicts with the assistance of neutral third parties. ADR can be used as an alternative to court litigation or agency adjudications, or to help disputing parties resolve a problem that they cannot resolve on their own. Some ADR processes include facilitation, conciliation, mediation, and ombudsperson programs.
ADR can help prevent the escalation of conflict into violent or potentially violent situations. The key is using ADR early, before emotions or conduct make discussion a non- option. Here are two examples of how ADR can work:
A mediator trained in listening and communicating can defuse tensions, clear up misunderstandings, and open the door to productive dialogue. By helping uncover misunderstandings or enabling an individual to get something off his/her chest in a safe setting, the result may be not only immediate resolution of an issue, but improved relations and communications for the future.
An ombudsperson is the “eyes and ears” of the highest level of an organization. Individuals having complaints or grievances about the organization can bring them confidentially to the ombudsperson, who can listen, investigate, and recommend solutions to problems.
Considerations for Using ADR
ADR can be an appropriate vehicle for resolving many kinds of disputes. This is true whether the conflict is among USDA employees, or involves individuals outside USDA. ADR may be an option for your problem if:
ADR may not be appropriate when the parties are so hostile toward each other that sitting down together might be unsafe.
For an ADR program to be successful, it must be one that is trusted by those who use it. Trust can be created by:
Initiating an ADR Process
Conflict Between Employees: A number of USDA agencies have programs designed to achieve early resolution of conflict in the workplace; others will establish such programs to comply with the Secretary’s Conflict Management Policy. Most of these programs offer mediation. ADR can generally be initiated by supervisory or non-supervisory employees for workplace disputes of any kind.
Conflict With Customers: In approximately 20 States, USDA Certified Mediation Programs provide mediation for disputes between USDA and program applicants or participants. Although it is usually the customer who requests mediation, USDA employees who have a problem with a customer may be able to initiate mediation in some States. In other States, there are frequently resources available in the community that can provide ADR services (e.g., community mediation centers, law schools, courts).
Each agency has a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with trained counselors who can address workplace stress and violence issues. You can use these counselors as a way to assess whether a situation needs to be brought to the attention of management. You can also use them to strategize ways to deal with uncomfortable or threatening situations.
Seemingly insignificant conflicts between co-workers or managers can sometimes erupt into dangerous situations – especially if the problem goes unchecked. In many cases of worker- on-worker violence, minor non-violent conflicts that went unresolved built up until they were no longer manageable. By intervening early in a conflict between two people, whether it’s two workers or a worker and supervisor, you may be able to resolve the problem before it gets out of control.
Professional counselors are available to discuss problems that can adversely affect job performance and conduct. EAP is required to help employees deal with alcoholism or drug abuse problems, and most EAP counselors also help employees with other problems, for example, marital or financial. EAP counselors often refer employees to other professional services and resources within the community for further information, assistance, or long-term counseling.
EAP may differ from agency to agency in its structure and scope of services. Some are in-house programs, staffed by employees of the agency. Others are contracted out or are operated through an interagency agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Division of Federal Occupational Health. Services differ among contracted programs, depending on the terms of the contract and the relationship between the agency and the contractor.
Confidentiality is an important issue for EAP. Employees who seek EAP services are afforded considerable privacy by laws, policies, and professional ethics of EAP providers. It is common practice for the EAP to inform employees in writing about the limits of confidentiality at the first meeting.
If you ever have concerns about a situation which may turn violent, alert your supervisor immediately and follow the specific reporting procedures provided by your agency. It is better to err on the side of safety than to risk having a situation escalate.
The following are warning indicators of potential workplace violence:
Once you have noticed a subordinate, co-worker, or customer showing any signs of the above indicators, you should take the following steps:
It is very important to respond appropriately, i.e., not to overreact but also not to ignore a situation. Sometimes that may be difficult to determine. Managers should discuss the situation with expert resource staff to get help in determining how best to handle the situation.
No matter how effective agencies' policies and plans are in detecting and preventing incidents, there are no guarantees against workplace violence. Even the most responsive employers face this issue. When a violent incident does occur, it is essential the response be timely, appropriate to the situation, and carried out with the recognition that employees are traumatized and that the incident’s aftermath has just begun.
Because work situations and environments vary so greatly from agency to agency within USDA, it is up to each individual agency to develop and publicize the specific procedures for responding to workplace violence incidents in each location.
|Responding to Violent Incidents:|
Every USDA office or facility should distribute to each employee a viable occupant emergency plan outlining procedures to follow in the event of fire, bomb threats, civil demonstrations, threats of violence both inside and outside the office, natural disasters, etc.
If you do not have a copy of the current occupant emergency plan for your facility, contact your supervisor, the agency safety and health officer, or the facility security office.
In the event of an emergency, refer to the phone numbers of security, police, and medical service in your facility occupant emergency plan.
For handy reference, you may wish to write down the numbers of emergency services in your area in the portion provided on the first page (or inside the front cover, or on the back cover depending on the design) of this pamphlet.
A traumatic or emergency response team goes into action once a situation of violence has occurred. The team usually consists of many of the same individuals who make up the threat assessment team but their purpose is to deal with the actual violent situation and its aftermath as well as to take steps to prevent similar future occurrences. A representative of the public affairs staff may also be a member of this team in order to deal with any release of information to the public.
The team assists management and employees by serving as a resource and information source in regard to workplace violence concerns; shares information with employees so that they are involved; responds, as needed, to incidents; assists with attempts to de-escalate and manage the situation; facilitates and coordinates response action to ensure that appropriate follow-up action is taken (investigations, victim assistance, preventive and corrective actions); coordinates with the media; and addresses administrative issues.
This is a very crucial step in an agency’s program. Although the hope is that violence will not occur, if it does, agencies must be prepared to deal with the situation, to help in the healing process, and to get the workforce back to productivity.
Following a violent incident, employees experience three stages of “crisis reactions” to varying degrees:
Stage One. In this stage, the employee experiences emotional reactions characterized by shock, disbelief, denial, or numbness. Physically, the employee experiences shock or a fight-or- flight survival reaction in which the heart rate increases, perceptual senses become heightened or distorted, and adrenaline levels increase to meet a real or perceived threat.
Stage Two. This is the “impact” stage where the employee may feel a variety of intense emotion, including anger, rage, fear, terror, grief, sorrow, confusion, helplessness, guilt, depression, or withdrawal. This stage may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.
Stage Three. This is the “reconciliation stage” in which the employee tries to make sense out of the event, understand its impact, and through trial and error, reach closure of the event so it does not interfere with his or her ability to function and grow. This stage may be a long-term process.
While it is difficult to predict how an incident will affect a given individual, several factors influence the intensity of trauma. These factors include the duration of the event, the amount of terror or horror the victim experienced, the sense of personal control (or lack thereof) the employee had during the incident, and the amount of injury or loss the victim experienced (i.e., loss of property, self-esteem, physical well-being, etc.). Other variables include the person’s previous victimization experiences, recent losses such as the death of a family member, and other intense stresses.
Agencies should have in place a mechanism to evaluate what took place to determine if everything was done that could have been done to have prevented the incident and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. The threat assessment and emergency response teams should be part of this process.
EAP counselors should not be the first to intervene in situations which are hostile or dangerous. In those situations, law enforcement personnel should be the first to intervene. In the event of a violent incident, the EAP can advise management of the best ways to help employees cope with the emotional impact of the incident.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidelines that address potentially violent misconduct by employees with psychiatric and other disabilities. Agencies may discipline an employee with a disability who has violated a written or non-written rule that is job related and consistent with business necessity, as long as the agency would impose the same discipline on an employee without a disability.
An agency is never required to excuse past misconduct as a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a change to the workplace that helps an employee perform his or her job and may be required, along with discipline, when the discipline is less than removal. The servicing human resources management office can provide assistance to supervisors on determining proper reasonable accommodation.
Employee Assistance Program
EAP counselors are prohibited by the confidentiality regulations (42 CFR Part 2) from disclosing information obtained from employees without their written consent. An exception to this prohibition however, is if an employee specifically threatens another person. In that case, the counselor generally will advise the employee that the information will be reported to appropriate authorities, regardless of whether a written consent is provided.
Threat Assessment Team
Information obtained during a threat assessment will be released to individuals needing the information in order to conduct an appropriate investigation into the situation, protect agency personnel, or confront the person making the threat. Typically, this includes security staff, employee relations staff, medical personnel as necessary, and management/supervisory personnel.
Critical Incident Stress Debriefing
Normally, this type of debriefing is conducted by EAP counselors or other mental health professionals. Information shared in the debriefing should remain confidential among the group present. This allows the employees a chance to recover from severe stress, talk about what they have gone through, and compare their reactions with those of others.
Dealing With the Media
Questions from the news media relating to incidents of workplace violence should be forwarded to the appropriate public affairs staff for your office.
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).