Policies and Procedures: Your Company's Armor
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You have formed your Safety Team. (Miss this step? Check out this article to get started!) Now what? First off, great job in getting this goal off the ground! That is a huge first step and the momentum should continue to grow from here. As the first article in this series indicated, there are three pillars that you will be working to accomplish to have a comprehensive Workplace Violence Program at your organization. This article will focus on the Policies and Procedures aspect of your program by detailing some of the essential policies and procedures relevant to your program. This will likely not be an all-inclusive list for your company and you will need to talk with your Safety Team to determine all necessary policies based on your organization’s unique risks. As last week's article mentioned, a site assessment can be a good place to start, and some will offer a policy review as part of this report. For example, our assessments offer a thorough look at your current policies, help identify what you are missing, and provide guidance to get you started. Many organizations find that this outside perspective saves a lot of time and gets their program started more efficiently.
While words on paper won’t necessarily stop an active shooter from coming in the door to commit violence, clearly defined policies and procedures can help prevent violence from escalating within the workplace and can mitigate the impact an event has on your organization. Properly designed policies are your armor against liability by additionally providing legal coverage to your company should an employee attempt to sue for a variety of reasons. Examples of this will be provided in more detail throughout the article. As mentioned above, you will want to have a discussion with your Safety Team to create your formal list of policies that require review and development. You may already have some in place but use this opportunity to give each one a fresh look to ensure that they are in line with current state and federal laws and working as intended within your organization. Assign one or multiple people to research and develop these policies and plan on several meetings with your team along the way to refine them until they are satisfactory. One very important step in this process is to bring in your insurance and legal advisers to ensure that the policies are giving you the coverage that you need while following all legal requirements. Let’s dive into some specifics on the key policies that you should be developing.
Hiring & Firing
The first covers your hiring and firing policies. With hiring, you should look primarily at your background check procedures. Do you run background checks, and if yes, how often? We strongly recommend that all potential new hires are given a background check. This ensures that you have the most information possible on any potential issues that this person may bring into your company. Not only should you run this check during the hiring process, but you should also write into your policy to run additional checks at specified intervals throughout their employment with you. This part of the policy is often missed by organizations and leaves open the potential for an employee to have legal trouble, such as arrest or restraining orders, after being hired without you ever being aware. You can decide whether this repeat background check will be routine for all employees, or whether your policy is written to give you the discretion to selectively run the check based on individual behavior or legitimate suspicion of a change in their legal record. There are many third-party providers for these background checks and companies that serve other aspects of your business, PrimePay for HR and Payroll needs, often offer background checks as part of their services.
Your policy for firing an employee should cover the procedures that are taken to complete that termination. For example, it is a wise policy for two people to be present in addition to the employee to reduce the risk that he or she attempts to inflict any harm. Additional firing policies center around whether security personnel or law enforcement are engaged to escort the individual from the point of termination until they have exited the building. By making this a standard procedure, you will reduce the risk of a former employee attempting to sue you for discrimination if they were escorted out, while previously terminated employees were not given the same treatment. If you choose to not make this practice apply to all firings, make sure the language in your policy gives you the latitude to make that decision based on specific factors on a case by case basis, such as being able to articulate why you felt there was an increased danger with that individual. You may also want to consider a no-trespass order for all newly terminated employees that bar them from returning to the workplace and additionally include policy for the prompt retrieval or deactivation of all access capabilities. Be aware that in some instances, a newly terminated employee left the building seemingly calm, went to their vehicle or home to retrieve weapons, and returned later as an active shooter. Due to this, it is very important that your policies and procedures for firing extend beyond the termination itself.
Domestic violence, one type of Workplace Violence, is a significant issue within the workplace and your organization should absolutely have a policy in place to properly handle a situation in which an employee is experiencing this threat. In one study that looked at numbers of full-time employed adults who experience domestic violence, 74% of that group reported that their abuser harassed them while at work. In short, that means that their risk becomes your risk. Policies to address domestic violence walk a fine line due to the sensitive nature of the issue and it will be essential for you to bring your lawyer in to fully understand the laws around what you can and cannot require of an employee in this circumstance. For example, determine whether your policy can include a provision mandating that any employee who initiates a restraining order against another person inform your organization of this action. You will also want to get legal advice on the extent to which you can disclose this information to others within the company. Your policy will have to balance the need for confidentiality on behalf of the victim and the need to make others aware of the increased threat level that is resulting from an individual having cause to target your organization. At a minimum, we advise sharing a photograph of the abuser with security and other key personnel, although preferably it would be disseminated to the entire employee base. This alert does not need to include any identifying information or reason for the shared image. You will additionally want to look at policy for assistance offered to the employee, whether that be providing a security escort from the building to their vehicle for a certain length of time following the restraining order or allowing them to work remotely if they deem that a safer option.
A workplace violence policy is a fairly common one out there in which most organizations adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ stance. But what exactly does that mean? Technically speaking, a zero-tolerance policy will result in the termination of any employee who acts in a manner that qualifies as workplace violence. As with other policies, a zero-tolerance policy is only as good as your reinforcement, and we generally find that a lot of incidents are slipping through the cracks despite these good intentions. Consider the definition of workplace violence; “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” That’s quite a wide range! There are the obvious ones that are easy to enforce, such as an employee threatening to kill a coworker or a substantiated sexual assault on one employee by another. But there are a lot of acts occurring on a regular basis that qualify as workplace violence but are rarely penalized despite the supposed zero-tolerance policy. For example, levels of harassment and assault have blurry lines for how people define or recognize them, and incidents are often downplayed, unreported, or reported but not deemed to be significant enough to lose a job over. It is in these gray areas that a policy deteriorates if employees witness it not being enforced. Additionally, an impression that a coworker will automatically be fired for a relatively minor comment or action that would qualify as workplace violence may have the unintended consequence of a decrease in willingness to report.
Our recommendation is to provide yourself with room for discretion in the language of your policy, especially if you choose to call the policy ‘zero-tolerance’. Your policy should state that allegations will be thoroughly investigated and that disciplinary action, up to and including termination, will be determined based on circumstances, severity, and other relevant factors.
Recognizing and reporting concerning behavior is a significant piece of preventing violence within the workplace. To encourage the trust and confidence of your employees in reporting concerns about potential risk, you should develop a reporting policy that clearly states that they will not face repercussions for coming forward. It is understandably a concern of your employees that, should they bring the name of a coworker to management, that person will find out who named them. Earning the trust of your team requires more than just a policy – that must be engrained in your culture – but this policy is a way to reinforce that trust in writing. To encourage reporting by your employees, you will also want to look into your reporting mechanisms. We all know that if something is cumbersome, people won’t use it! LiveSafe is an app that we like that provides a reporting feature, along with several other useful tools. They are used by many large organizations and offer a reliable service.
You will want to give yourself some flexibility in this policy of anonymity to allow for circumstances that require you to disclose their identity. For example, there may be a situation in which outside legal becomes involved and the employee who brought forward the allegation or evidence is requested to testify on these claims. You will definitely want to consult with your legal team on the specific language that should be used in this policy.
Like your workplace violence policy, this is another one that is actually much more complicated than it may seem. Many organizations like to establish a ‘No Weapons Policy’ but do not offer any additional information. Given the complex nature of the topic, you will need your policy to more thorough than that before you go putting your ‘no weapons’ sign on the door. The primary concern is your liability in exposing persons at your workplace to risk, both from the perspective of allowing weapons on site and from the position of not allowing weapons and thereby disarming your employees. If you do allow firearms on site and someone is injured by an employee’s weapon, many states have immunity clauses in place where the employer cannot be found liable, unless there is evidence that you knew of a risk but did not act to remove that person’s access to a firearm on the worksite. For example, say it had been brought to your attention that a certain employee was making viable threats against the company, but you do not ban him from the site or restrict his ability to bring his firearm to work. If that employee goes on commit an active shooter event while at work, you could be found liable for having a weapons policy that exposed your other employees to that threat.
On the flip side, there are other considerations with a no weapons policy. Some states have introduced bills that, if passed, would allow the employer to be found liable following a violent event if an employee can articulate that they would not have experienced injury or death if they had had access to their firearm. The best place to start will be to look into your specific state laws to determine what is in place to protect you as the employer and also to protect the rights and safety of your employees. Make sure to look at the variances in laws for no weapons policies within your facility and your parking lot, as well as required verbiage on your ‘no weapons’ signage.
This is a short summary of an incredibly complex issue and we will put out a blog specifically on this topic in the near future. Of all the policies mentioned thus far, this is one that you will really want to think through carefully, consider the repercussions from all angles, and be thoroughly versed in the legal components of your policy. By doing so, you will minimize employee confusion and future liability if a situation involving a weapon occurs within your organization.
Active Shooter Training
This is the last policy that we are going to cover in this article and it addresses your organization’s policy on training for an active shooter/active assailant within your company. We will be getting into the ins and outs of training programs in the next blog, but for the purposes of your policy, the primary decision you will need to make is whether training will be optional or mandatory for your employees. If the training is optional, it will be of less importance to have a specific policy, but if you are making it mandatory, you will want a policy that articulates this expectation. Some aspects to determine are how soon a new-hire will be required to go through the training, how long each employee has to complete the training (if done in an online model), how often they will need to repeat the training, and consequences for not participating. We would recommend that new-hires take this training immediately upon starting, so that you do not have any significant gaps in training compliance within your organization. If you start to mix trained employees with untrained employees, you can open yourself up to liability if a violent event occurs, and the untrained employee sues you since others were trained but they were not. In line with that, we also advocate for companies to train each employee annually to maintain a higher level of knowledge retention. To learn more about training options before next week, you can head here!
As was mentioned in the beginning of the article, this is not intended to be a complete list of the policies that you may need to address workplace violence within your organization. Together with your safety team, consider any unique circumstances that you may have on site that you will want to have a policy for. Once this list is created, begin the research and development stage to flesh out the language for each policy. Again, bringing in your insurance and legal teams will greatly help with this process and ensure that your policies will give you the protection you need. Lastly, plan on how to disperse these new policies to your team. A policy offers you no protection if nobody is aware of it, so you will want each employee to receive a copy of all new policies. We would even recommend that you have them sign to acknowledge that they saw and understand each one.