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Creating violence-free workplace pays big dividends

By Theresa Minton-Eversole

The number of deaths reported as a result of workplace violence has steadily fallen in recent years, statistics say, but approximately 2 million violent workplace victimizations are still reported annually. As a result, says National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence President W. Barry Nixon, the number of negligence lawsuits filed against companies accused of not adequately protecting workers is increasing.

The costs of a negligence suit, Nixon told those attending his Monday session at the Employment Management Association Conference, can be substantial. Cases alleging negligent hiring, retention, training, or supervision, he sand, can cost an average of $500,000 to settle out of court and approximately $3 million if they go to trial.

And that doesn’t even account for the potential losses of human capital. As a result, there’s never been a greater need for companies to work to create a safe environment for their workforce.

"Remember the target of an effective workplace violence program is injury prevention," Nixon said. "By focusing on reducing the likelihood of hiring at-risk individuals, the organization is making a preemptive strike against those who would wreak havoc and violence against others. The most effective way to prevent problems is not to hire them in the first place."

Five Key Areas for Pre-Hire Screenings

Pre-screening for potentially violent individuals during the hiring process is one of the most effective ways to create a violence-free work environment, Nixon said. Proper pre-hire screenings of job applicants, said Nixon, should include a combination of the following candidate selection strategies:

• critical behavior trait assessment

• behavior-based interview questions

• employment selection procedures

• psychological testing and assessment

• background and reference checking

Behavior Traits and Behavior-Based Interviewing

Testing for behavioral traits should reveal how well individuals can manage conflict, Nixon said. To find this out, ask the person to describe how they chose to handle a conflict they experienced personally. "Remember," said Nixon, "the single most influential factor in predicting a person’s future behavior is knowing how he or she has behaved in the past in a similar situation."

All hiring personnel should be trained in behavior-based interview techniques, Nixon stressed, and questions addressing specific behavior traits -- as well as acceptable response ranges -- should be developed in advance of the interview.

Employment Selection Techniques

Nixon also said it is important that employment selection techniques capture the information you really need, and HR pros should insist that all employment applications be completed and signed by all job applicants. Applications should include information that will help verify the identity of the person. They should also ask about felony and misdemeanor convictions. HR should also get permission from each applicant to conduct a background search.

Likewise, during exit interviews with current employees, HR should have the person leaving sign a release form giving the employer permission to release information to prospective future employers seeking a reference.

Background and Reference Checking

HR should assign the process of background checking to the right level of individual within the company and provide them with training on how to investigate reports and make effective assessments. Those responsible for conducting background checks, for example, should be trained in how to check the identity of the applicant -- which too often isn’t the case.

A background checking policy that defines what will be checked, who will be responsible for the process, acceptable timeframes for receiving missing information, and a process for appeal will help ensure the company systematizes its process. In addition, require that all temporary hiring agencies and subcontractors follow your reference checking system or one that complements it.

If your company chooses to outsource its background checking function, meanwhile, Nixon advised that you carefully screen the companies you are considering. Different companies, said Nixon, are better at pre-screening for certain positions than others.

Psychological Testing and Assessments

Nixon recommends conducting psychological assessments on candidates, but cautions that they should not be used as a sole factor for rejecting them. Instead, he suggested, use them to predict an individual’s current ability to safely perform the job being applied for.

"While it is every employer’s responsibility to prevent workplace violence, there are limitations on the ability of to screen and reject employees on the basis of suspicions that they may become violent," Nixon explained.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is the EMA online forum manager.

Related Links:

Pre-Employment Screening Company Directory

SHRM Store:

Safe Hiring, by Les Rosen






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