Preparing for the Unthinkable: Workplace Violence

Part One of a Two-Part Series

By Ron Tabaczynski, BOMA/Chicago Director of Government Affairs

Several high-profile, violent incidents across the world in recent months have put security and emergency preparedness on top of the minds for many in the commercial real estate industry. Many building owners and managers are grappling with this unfortunate, everyday reality that could impact our properties and tenants.

Recognizing the concern, BOMA/Chicago’s Security Committee recently hosted an Open Security Committee Meeting to address these important topics, with a special focus on workplace violence and its link to domestic violence.

Expert speakers included Pam Paziotopoulos, Senior Council at Dussias Skallas LLP, a nationally recognized expert on domestic violence and a former Assistant State’s Attorney; John Busch, Illinois Protective Security Advisor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Keith Martin, Vice President and Physical Security Manager at JPMorgan Chase.

In the first of a two-part Elevator Speech series, we’ll explore some of the underlying causes, as well as predictors, of workplace violence.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is unquestionably a serious issue in its own right, but according to Pam Paziotopoulos, the impact of abuse at home often carries over to the workplace as well. It is estimated businesses lose between $3 and $5 billion each year in reduced productivity, increased health care costs, absenteeism, etc. as a result of domestic violence.

When we look at employed domestic violence victims, the statistics are staggering:

  • 98 percent have difficulty concentrating
  • 78 percent report being late
  • 53 percent report losing their job
  • 47 percent report being victimized before work

Unfortunately, domestic abuse also plays a direct role in many workplace violence incidents, with 67 percent of victims reporting that violent offenders have come to their workplace. As soon this occurs, the immediate threat to coworkers and others in the building escalates. According to a national survey conducted by the National Safe Workplace Institute, 71 percent of HR and security personnel surveyed have had an incident of domestic violence occur on company property. Further, 94 percent of corporate security directors rank domestic violence as a high security problem at their companies.

The troubling reality is that domestic violence often infiltrates the workplace. Think of it this way: a victim can change his/her email address, phone number and even address to avoid an abuser. However, it’s much more difficult for victims to change jobs, making them vulnerable to stalking and, in some cases, violent attacks.

Domestic violence cannot be ignored.   Training both employers and their employees on the correlation between domestic and workplace violence is critical to maintaining a safe and secure working environment. There are many resources available. You can find a model workplace policy on the American Bar Association (ABA) website.

Warning Signs

Ask John Busch and he’ll tell you perpetrators of violence in the workplace, from ex-spouses or significant others to disgruntled employees, usually display certain types of behavior prior to the incident.

As part of a recent study, the FBI’s Joint Intelligence Bulletin analyzed more than 150 active shooter events over a period of ten years. Workplace retaliation, domestic disputes and academic retaliation were among the top motivations for an attack. Shooters were often social isolates, and some struggled with mental health. What may come as a surprise, however, is very few had previous arrests for violent crimes. Interestingly, one common indicator of an attack was a major, negative, recent development in the shooter’s life, such as a breakup, financial trouble, job loss or a death in the family.

In 80 percent of shooter events, friends and colleagues saw major behavioral changes in the shooter before the attack. Examples include:

  • Talk of previous violent incidents
  • Unsolicited focus on dangerous weapons
  • Paranoia or depression
  • Overreaction to workplace changes
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Unstable, emotional responses to everyday conflict
  • Intense anger or hostility
  • Increase alcohol or drug use
  • Violations of company policies
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Blaming others

Upon noticing these characteristics in a colleague, many people’s gut reaction is to withdraw and minimize further interaction. However, this only further isolates the individual and compounds existing issues. Whenever possible, employers and  employees should be trained to recognize unusual behavior in their coworkers. Counseling services should be offered or made available by the employer. A proper referral may not only help the troubled employee, but also ultimately prevent violent workplace attacks.

Contingency Planning

Offering training on how to prevent workplace violence is only half the battle. It’s also important to have an emergency plan in place should an attack occur. In part two of this Elevator Speech series, we’ll share best practices on how to prepare for a worst case scenario – an active shooter event in your building.

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About Ron Tabaczynski

Director of Government Affairs at BOMA/Chicago
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