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Joe Freeman
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October 19, 2016
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Workplace Violence: Threat Assessment and Management (Part 2)

Threat assessment is a structured group process used to evaluate the risk posed by another person, typically as a response to an actual or perceived threat or concerning behavior. Workplace violence is an unpleasant topic that many people try to avoid. However, news of mass shootings and other violent events have saturated the media in recent years and forced the American public to pay attention. The growing media spotlight on this issue has also spurred more oversight by regulatory agencies and initiated the development of policies and protocols to help prevent threatening behavior and violence within the workplace. This article takes a closer look at threat assessment and management with a specific focus on the suggested best practices outlined in ASIS/SHRM WVPI.1-2011. This is part two of our three-part review of workplace violence.

workplace violence threatening face

Understanding the Standard
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in conjunction with ASIS International (ASIS) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), released the Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard in 2011 (ASIS/SHRM WVPI.1-2011). To
provide a general idea of what’s included within this standard, the abstract is as follows:

This standard provides an overview of policies, processes and protocols that organizations can adopt to help identify and prevent threatening behavior and violence affecting the workplace, and to better address and resolve threats and violence that have actually occurred. This standard describes the personnel within organizations who typically become involved in prevention and intervention efforts, outlines a proactive organizational approach to workplace violence focused on prevention and early intervention, and proposes ways in which an organization can better detect, investigate, manage, and – whenever possible – resolve behavior that has generated concerns for workplace safety from violence. The standard also describes the implementation of a workplace violence prevention and intervention program, and protocols for effective incident management and resolution.1

There isn’t a road map or series of steps that will work for every employer – each situation is unique. It’s important to remember that workplace violence prevention and intervention is a multi-disciplinary endeavor. The steps contained within the standard serve as a general guide and help prevent certain behaviors from being overlooked. The following paragraphs will touch on some of the guidance and best practices outlined within the standard.

Getting Started
To begin, employers should organize a group that will be responsible for designing and implementing the organization’s workplace violence prevention program (WVPP). Some organizations utilize their safety committees to serve dual functions. Depending on the size and structure of the organization, personnel participating in the WVPP typically include security staff, human resources (HR) and legal counsel, as well as other key facility and management employees. As with any organizational group, senior management’s understanding and support is critical.

Once the WVPP committee is established, a violence prevention program needs to be developed. Program templates and policies are available online, and organizations frequently share successful strategies among similar companies. With these options available, employers can avoid starting a program from scratch. The WVPP committee should use the information contained within ASIS/SHRM WVPI.1-2011 to serve as a guide during the program development process. Furthermore, it is important to consider the work environment in which the program will ultimately be implemented. Environmental concerns go beyond the physical work environment and the workforce. Consideration should also be given for legal, regulatory and contractual obligations. Outside consultants who are specifically focused on WVPP development and workplace security are also available and being used on a more frequent basis. As roadblocks are encountered during program development, consultants are an excellent resource for professional advice, and they also introduce an outside set of eyes for better perspective.

Taking the Next Steps
An important part of developing a WVPP includes designating a threat management team responsible for investigating and resolving threats, and establishing incident management protocols to help ensure that they are evaluated consistently. The individuals designated should be thoroughly trained in threat assessment and resolution, as well as on their particular role or function within the management protocols.

Strong policies set clear expectations for appropriate workplace behavior and facilitate incident management to advance the goal of violence prevention. In addition to a detailed WVPP, the following policies should also be provided:

  • Anti-harassment and discrimination policies
  • Substance abuse policy
  • Code of ethics policy
  • Electronic communications / computer
    use policy
  • Inspections policy that establishes the employer’s right to access an employee’s workplace computer, desk, locker and other items / premises

Putting the Plan in Motion
Once the threat management team and incident management protocols are in place, it is time to finalize and distribute the WVPP policy. Training the existing workforce on policy changes will be needed, and should also be added to new-employee orientation. Training should include an explanation of the overall program and outline the roles and responsibilities of individual members of the workforce. Training on roles and responsibilities might include a requirement to report any threatening comments made or behaviors displayed by co-workers or vendors and other outside parties. Training might also cover how to provide information on a confidential basis regarding threats posed by family, friends or other individuals with whom employees interact outside of the workplace.

Spotting the Red Flags
Most individuals who initiate workplace violence display inappropriate behaviors prior to the event. These warning signs often involve a threat of violence or some degree of intimidation. Employees should be trained on how to recognize and report such behavior, and the threat management team needs to be prepared to evaluate any warning signs. While there isn’t a single behavior that can be used to predict a future violent event, the threat management team can evaluate a range of factors to gauge the level of risk and determine the need to seek further internal or external assistance to address the situation.

Factors and circumstances commonly used in assessing an individual’s risk of perpetrating a violent act include their personal history and actions, including any bullying, outbursts, complaints, erratic behavior, signs of emotional distress or a fascination with recently publicized violent events. Newly identified behavioral issues are of particular importance, such as repeat tardiness and absenteeism or a withdrawal from normal workplace social circles. Consideration should always be given for any surrounding context that might magnify the likelihood of violence (i.e., recent financial hardship, legal problems, personal struggles, pay / job security issues, etc.).

Many organizations are capable of identifying risk factors and performing an initial threat assessment using the organization’s incident management protocols, but when high-risk employees are identified, the majority of organizations require additional assistance. During the incident management process, legal issues often arise regarding rights to privacy, compliance with the organization’s policies and procedures, federal and state regulatory compliance, disciplinary actions and requirements under collective bargaining agreements. Whether in-house or from an outside law firm, legal counsel should be consulted. By doing so, potential legal risks and liabilities can be considered prior to taking any action.

Checks and Balances
As noted in ASIS/SHRM WVPI.1-2011, the effectiveness of the WVPP needs to be continually monitored. Successes and failures should be recorded and the regulatory environment should be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis. The effectiveness of employee training and its application should also be regularly audited to verify that employees are familiar with their roles and responsibilities, and to verify that all security-related obligations mandated by the program are being followed. Look for the Fall edition of SilverLink to read the conclusion of this three-part series, which will focus on law enforcement involvement before an event occurs and how to respond to a workplace violence event.

Read part one now.

Read part three now.

1 “Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention: ASIS/SHRM WVPI.1-2011.” American National Standard. 2011. Accessed on April 11, 2016. 

This article originally appeared in the 2016 | ISSUE TWO of the SilverLink magazine under the title “Workplace Violence – Threat Assessment and Management. A Three-Part Review – Part Two.” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.

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