Violence at the office: Have a prevention plan


                                                    Jane Applegate


      Is your company too small to worry about workplace violence?


      Probably not, say experts who believe no American business is immune to the problem.


      Every year, about 1,000 people are killed on the job. Even if your employees don't kill you, you could be among the 1

      million assaulted and injured every year by a disgruntled customer or colleague.


      Beyond the life-and-death matters, workplace violence is expensive, costing American companies about $5 billion

      in medical bills, counseling and legal settlements.


      "Workplace violence can be prevented, and there are definitely things a small business owner can do," said Charles

      Labig, a clinical psychologist and author of "Preventing Violence in the Workplace" (Amacom).


      Labig, who consults with big and small companies, said small business owners often deny violence is a problem

      or deal with it in the wrong way. When confronted with a volatile employee, the natural tendency is to fire the

      troublemaker, which often exacerbates the situation and provokes a violent episode.


      The better approach is to suggest the troubled employee get some sort of professional counseling. Paying for it out

      of your own pocket, if necessary, is worth it if it will avert a disaster.


      A violent or disturbed worker can ruin morale at your company. Plus, an estimated 12,000 unhappy people commit

      suicide at work every year, Labig said.


      Business owners should have a written workplace violence-prevention plan to show they are dealing with the

      problem. In recent years, courts across the country have held business owners liable for monetary damages when

      employees are injured on the premises.


      So, how can you spot a potentially violent employee?


      Experts say most of the people who kill their bosses or colleagues are men in their mid-30s who own weapons and

      consider their jobs the most important things in their lives. Many go over the edge after being criticized, demoted or

      laid off.


      "The person is often compulsive, depressed or paranoid," said David Bowman, president of TTG Consultants in

      Los Angeles. "He may continually file grievances and lawsuits, be tough to discipline and resent authority."


      Violent people often think, "The boss is a jerk," Bowman said.


      Stepping up security and even installing metal detectors may be necessary if you are threatened by an employee.

      Bowman said employees should be told that their desks and lockers are company property and can be searched at

      any time.


      Business owners should also be aware if any employee has a restraining order against a spouse or lover. Often,

      the irate boyfriend or girlfriend shows up at the office threatening to harm one of your employees.


      Customers are also a threat to your safety. Labig said 20 percent of workplace assaults are committed by unhappy



      The best solution to avoiding workplace violence is to discuss it with your employees and have a plan to deal with it

      -- before you need it.


      © 1997, Washington Business Journal