Is Your Business Doing Enough to Prevent Workplace Violence?

Violence in the workplace is a growing problem for which many U.S. employers are unprepared.

Business owners may believe that their workforces are like families and that a violent outburst could never happen at work. They may also think that they have adequate security in place to stop an outsider from launching an attack or that their business would never be a target. These assumptions are probably mistaken.

Violence can take many forms and result in injuries or death, and employers are increasingly advised to put in place security and workplace violence prevention measures. Besides the human toll, a number of insurance policies may come into play after an incident.

In 2020, 20,050 workers in private U.S. businesses suffered non-fatal workplace violence trauma. Another 392 workers were killed. While three-quarters of the non-fatal victims worked in health care, more than 30% of those killed worked in retail. Employees at gas stations and convenience stores were particularly at risk.

Government is starting to address the problem. A California law taking effect July 1, 2024 will require employers to implement written workplace violence prevention plans. These must include annual workplace violence prevention training, incident logs and other recordkeeping.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration created guidance for health care employers about workplace violence prevention. It cited several hospital systems in 2023 for failure to provide safe workplaces.

Insurance

Companies that have suffered a workplace incident can turn to several insurance policies,

including:

  • Workers’ compensation, for injuries suffered by employees or their deaths. One workers’ comp insurer has reported that the rate of workplace violence injuries has quadrupled over the past 25 years and the cost of those claims has doubled.
  • Commercial general liability insurance, for injuries and property damage suffered by members of the public on the business’s premises at the time of the incident.
  • Employment practices liability insurance, for employees who were not injured but were nevertheless traumatized from witnessing the incident.
  • Commercial property insurance, which may cover damage done to the business’s building and personal property. For example, gunshots may damage walls, windows and equipment.

In addition, relatively new types of insurance such as workplace violence and active-assailant policies may cover expenses that traditional policies do not. These might include employee counseling, changes to undamaged parts of the building to make it more secure, and public relations efforts to repair a damaged reputation.

Prevention steps

While workplace violence that results in deaths often makes the news, the majority of incidents are smaller, such as an isolated attack by someone who has been fired. A business cannot absolutely prevent a workplace violence incident, but you can take steps to make it less likely. These include:

  • Establishing and enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for bullying, harassment of any kind, discrimination or intimidation.
  • Modifying employer policies about sexual harassment to encompass all kinds of workplace violence.
  • Making violence prevention a regular agenda item at employee meetings.
  • Having procedures in place for reacting to any incidents that do occur, including assignment of responsibility for executing the procedures to specific individuals.
  • Setting up a mechanism for employees to report any threats of violence towards them or co-workers.

There have always been violent incidents in workplaces, but they are becoming more common. Preventing them helps workplace morale and employee retention, protects your reputation —

 and helps keep the workplace a pleasant and productive place for everyone.

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