Mentor Article

How Can You Safeguard Your Workplace Against Violence?

Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting

(CNN) “DeWayne Craddock, a 15-year public works employee, stopped in the men’s bathroom to brush his teeth near the end of his shift, like he did every day. But by late afternoon, instead of going home, he plotted to carry out a massacre at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. The gunman, who had submitted his letter of resignation hours earlier, killed 12 people (11 co-workers and a contractor). Craddock died after a gun battle with officers. It was the deadliest massacre in the country this year.”

As an HR Consultant and former HR Executive, this tragedy really struck home with me. I’ve personally been in a few ugly termination meetings where I feared for my life. In one situation, the employee pulled out a large silver bullet and handed it across the desk to me. While he fortunately did not pull out a gun, he was definitely sending a message to me and to the company. One of my colleagues had an employee pull a gun out during a termination meeting and was able to talk the employee into handing the gun over.

As business leaders we say that “employees are our biggest asset” but what are we doing to protect them in a situation such as the one in Virginia Beach earlier this year? With the trend towards open office space, is there protection should a disgruntled employee show up with a gun?

I never thought I would be saying this but today I agree with a policy that my most difficult CEO implemented about 20 years ago that at the time I thought was paranoid and not employee friendly. When any employee gave notice, he insisted they be walked out immediately regardless of their reason for quitting (with the possible exceptions of leaving to have a baby or retiring). We paid them two weeks of notice pay as a courtesy. At the time, it seemed like over kill and put the employee’s manager in a difficult situation of providing immediate coverage.

Many, if not most workplace violence situations are committed by an ex-employee and it gives me pause to rethink the termination policy that my mercurial former boss insisted I implement back in the 1990’s. We managed to make it work and there actually were some benefits of the policy. For example, there was far less gossip about employees being fired because it was impossible to tell who had quit versus who was fired. Additionally, it forced managers to have a back-up plan and cross training for all critical functions.

Changing your termination procedures won’t prevent every shooting but it’s worthy of consideration in today’s pro-second amendment rights culture. However, the very best defense against workplace violence is creating a workplace culture where employees feel valued and treated fairly; a culture that encourages people to receive counseling for mental health without stigma; a culture that encourages open communication and healthy conflict resolution.

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