Spring 2012

Violence in the Workplace

Marianna Retzi Organizational Behavior – Prof. Penny Vlagos Spring 2012

Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3 Violence in the Workplace: Definition and Categorization .......................................................................... 3 Circumstances of Workplace Violence.......................................................................................................... 5 The Cost of Workplace Violence ................................................................................................................... 7 Prevention of Violence in the Workplace ..................................................................................................... 8 Conclusion ..................................................................................................................................................... 9 Appendix ..................................................................................................................................................... 10 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................................ 15

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Introduction
San Diego, CA. June 4th 1991. Elgar Corporation It is a hot Wednesday morning, and the atmosphere in the San Diego offices of Elgar electrics corporation is suffocating. A couple of minutes ago the plant’s telephone network was shot out and two homemade bombs were set off. It was all a diversion, to avert everybody’s attention from what was about to happen: in a few minutes John Jones (Elgar Corp.’s GM) and Michael Krowitz (Sales Manager) will be shot and killed by disgruntled employee Larry Hansel. Sadly enough, none of us is a stranger to incidents like this one. On the contrary, employees are continuously facing the threat of becoming subject to physical violence in the workplace. (Figure 1) Violence in the workplace is, unfortunately, an issue of continuously increasing concern for both employees and employers. The purpose of this paper is to examine violence in the workplace. What causes violence behavior in the workplace? In which occupations is it found more often? Are there any warning signs and if so what are they? These are some of the questions that this paper will attempt to answer.

Violence in the Workplace: Definition and Categorization

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting” both at or outside the workplace. Even though when we hear the words workplace violence our mind goes immediately to incidents similar to the one mentioned before, homicide is not the only form of violence in the workplace. Some other forms of workplace violence are shootings, stabbings, rapes, Page | 3

beatings, suicides (or near-suicides), psychological traumas, obscene phone calls, intimidations and of course harassment of any nature (e.g. verbal, sexual). Based on Data obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for years 1993 – 1999 the most common form of workplace victimization is simple assault, followed by aggravated assault, robbery, rape and homicide. (Figure 2) There are four types of violence: a) Violence by strangers (in connection to robbery and other criminal acts), b) client-related violence, c) violence between co-workers and d) domestic violence spilling over to the workplace (Figure 3) In the first type of violence, the stranger usually has no relationship to the workplace or the victim itself but enters the workplace in order to commit crimes such as robbery. The violent act cannot only be committed within the walls of the workplace but also outside when an employee works within the scope of their employment. Usual groups of people that are mostly affected by this type of violence are taxi drivers or gas station clerks. This type of workplace violence accounts for 80% of all violence. (Isaacs. 2003. 13) Following, there is the client-related violence, where the perpetrator is a customer, or patient. Client-related violence usually takes place in areas where services are provided, such as security guards or healthcare facilities. Police officers are also vulnerable to client-related violence because of the violent nature of their occupation and the animosity and tensions that are usually created. There are two sub categories of this second type of violence. These acts can be committed by people who are inherently violent or people who are violent depending on the situation. The third type of workplace violence is violence between co-workers. It presents itself in the form of bullying, threats, disputes or even homicide. Here, we can also find two subcategories: violence between same level workers and violence between subordinates and supervisors. An extreme case of Page | 4

this took place on August 20th 1986 when Patrick Sherrill, 44, of Oklahoma City, actually gave meaning to the term “going postal”. Sherrill, a part-time letter carrier, barged into the Edmond post office and shot twenty people, leaving fourteen dead and six wounded, and then killed himself. (Bovsun. 2010) Finally, there is the case of domestic violence or domestic problems causing violent behavior in the workplace. The postal service industry provides us, yet, with one more example of workforce violence. In August 1989 John Taylor, father of five and a postal worker in Escondido, California for 27 years, killed his wife at home and then went on to kill two of his co-workers at work later on in the day. Taylor was a model employee who was even nominated for the “letter carrier of the quarter” award. (Indvik. 1996. 22)This type of violence, together with violence between co-workers, are the two types that are easier to prevent since working with the perpetrator can many times give clues of what he is about to do based on indications such as change of behavior. In more than one occasion, examples of homicide were given in order to illustrate the types of workplace violence. Apart from homicides though there is also physical violence. According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the majority of physical violence incidents in 2008 were caused by customers (40%) and the majority of homicides were committed by strangers (60%). (Figures 4, 5)

Circumstances of Workplace Violence

When previously describing the types of workplace violence, there were references to various industries where violence is likely to take place. About 2 million workers in the United States are subject to some sort of workplace violence every year. Some of those workers however, face an increased risk of violence in their workplace. The 2001 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses undertaken by the Page | 5

Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the two industries with the highest rates of workplace assaults are health services and social services with a rates of 9 and 14 assaults per 100 full time equivalent workers respectively. Both health and social services are part of the service industry. Almost 67 per cent of non fatal assaults take place in this industry. Within the service industry employees working in the government sector run the highest risk of being assaulted. (Tyme. 2) Other workers at risk are those working in manufacturing, retail trade, finance, insurance as well as real estate. (Figures 6, 7) According to the Center for Disease Control workplace homicide is the second highest cause of workplace fatalities in America after transportation accidents. A survey conducted in 1993 by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company found that “2.2 million Americans were attacked at work during the preceding 12 months; another 6.3 million were threatened, and 16.1 million were harassed. One-in-four workers were attacked, threatened or harassed in 12 months” (Indvik. 1996. 4) Who are the people most likely to cause violence in the workplace? What are the characteristics of those people responsible for tripling the rate of workplace homicide in the last decade and what “makes them tick”? (Kleiner. 1999) The “usual suspects” are unhappy employees, employees who have been fired, security guards, co-worker family members (e.g. angry husbands), disgruntled family members or patients (in the case of incidents in healthcare facilities) or people whose jobs involve working with money. Of course there are those who have some sort of personality disorder, some form of psychosis, alcohol or drug addiction, clinically depressed or have a history of violence. A characteristic example of the latter is the case of Randy Don Landin, a Honeywell employee who murdered a co-worker in 1979. After his release from jail he was rehired by the company. However, after being transferred because of problems with his coworkers and threatening to a co-worker he was fired. Eight days later he shot and killed his co-worker

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Kathleen Nesser, 25 years old and a mother of a 18-month old girl, with a shot gun outside her New Hope residence. (AP. 1988) These are just some of the profiles of people likely to commit acts of violence in the workplace. (Figure 8) Workplace violence is mostly caused by layoffs, economic conditions and stress over job security, drug and alcohol problems and possible problems at ones household. Disgruntled customers and former employees as well as an inadequate employee pre-screening are also some of the causes of violence in the workplace. The fact that weapons are nowadays available relatively easy combined with the glorification of violence by books, movies and TV shows are factors that contribute to violence in the workplace. (Kleiner. 1999) Knowing the traits of character of those likely to become violent and the reasons behind their behavior is not enough though. There are certain signs that all employees could be on the lookout for in order to prevent possible acts of violence. Workplace violence is not something that just comes up out of nowhere. There are smaller incidents that can give is clues to what is to follow. Aggressive behavior (such as harassment, bullying, intimidation and argumentative behavior), angry posture, heavy breathing, red face with protruding neck veins and many other physical symptoms can be precursors of violence in the workplace.

The Cost of Workplace Violence

Apart from unpleasant, violence in the workplace is a very costly ordeal, both financially and psychologically. According to the National Safe Workplace Institute, workplace violence cost $4.2 billion to employers in lost wages and legal expenses in 1992. Furthermore, according to the Institute’s estimates a single workplace violence episode can cost the employer up to $250,000 in legal fees and Page | 7

lost productivity. Apart from the lost productivity, the legal expenses, the repairs needed after the property damage and the poor public image of the company, there are also costs associated with recovering from the situation and taking better preventive measures. Companies have the obligation to continue providing salaries to the injured or psychologically traumatized employees and provide psychological support. There will also be costs for improving security and turning around the negative media publicity. (Kleiner. 1999)

Prevention of Violence in the Workplace

The key here is though, to be able to prevent acts of violence in the workplace. There are several ways that something like that can be achieved. The first step would be to hire in a cautious manner. A detailed screening of job applicants and the process of profiling are two measures that can bring a company closer to preventing such situations. Screening applicants seems like an excellent idea off hand; however employees should be very careful because of certain liability issues that exist. Moreover, past behavior cannot necessarily predict future behaviors and accessing certain information for screening purposes can constitute a violation of existing privacy laws. The evaluation of an individual’s mental ability and situation combined with various evaluation techniques to predict a future employee’s behavior constitute two of the basic activities of profiling. Still, profiling does not constitute a panacea. There are instances when non-violent people could fit the profile a violent worker. As with pre-screening, privacy laws are very likely to be violated. (Kleiner. 1999) Implementation of security measures can also help. They can range from simply locking a door or hiring a security guard to installing an elaborate security system. These measures can be enhanced by implementing security and safety plans. From the part of the employees, the employers can train employees concerning safety procedures, how they can keep themselves safe in case of violent

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incidents. Furthermore, it is very helpful to train the employees in order to make them aware of what workplace violence is and provide them with an outlet to express their fears, concerns and any incidents such as a toll-free number to security or Human Resources. Finally, there should be policies in places in case of workplace violence incidents in order to handle employee counseling needs and an employee’s termination or suspension if needed. A workplace violence policy should include elements such as the employees’ commitment to maintain a violence-free workplace, and assign clearly stated responsibilities related to the policy. An example of such policy can be seen in Figure 9 of the Appendix. (Kleiner. 1999)

Conclusion

Unfortunately, it seems that violence in the workplace will continue to increase thus creating the need for employers to be more alert and set in place preventive measures and ensure a safe working environment for their employees. They should also improve their hiring process in order to be able to set aside and discard individuals unsuitable for hiring in their company. Moreover, employers should be trained in order to realize the signs that could constitute precursors of workplace violence, as well as all the forms of workplace violence and feel comfortable enough to report their occurrence. With the combination of preventive measures and employee awareness training the situation could hopefully improve and the workplace would then become a safer environment to work at as a result.

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Appendix
Figure 1

Source: Violence, Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2007. 1-21

Figure 2

Source: Isaacs, Ar. R., Rugala E. A. 2003. Workplace Violence – Issues in Response. Critical Incident Response Group – National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime – FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. 1-80

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Figure 3

Source: 4Different Categories of Violence. [Online]. Available: http://www.securitysourceonline.com/images/4Different%20Categories%20of%20Violence.gif . [15 March 2012]

Figure 4

Source: North Atlantic Area Products and Services. 2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=14706 . [15 March 2012]

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Figure 5

Source: North Atlantic Area Products and Services. 2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=14706 . [15 March 2012]

Figure 6

Source: Tyme, J. Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention FAQs, Facts & Answers. [Online]. Available: http://www.ideasandtraining.com/Workplace-Violence-Prevention-Article.html . [15 March 2012].

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Figure 7

Source: Violence, Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2007. 1-21

Figure 8

Source: Isaacs, Ar. R., Rugala E. A. 2003. Workplace Violence – Issues in Response. Critical Incident Response Group – National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime – FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. 1-80

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Figure 9

Source: Isaacs, Ar. R., Rugala E. A. 2003. Workplace Violence – Issues in Response. Critical Incident Response Group – National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime – FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. 1-80

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Bibliography

4Different Categories of Violence. [Online]. Available: http://www.securitysourceonline.com/images/4Different%20Categories%20of%20Violence.gif . [15 March 2012]

AP. 1988. Minenesota Man Charged in Killing of Second Honeywell Co-Worker – New York Times. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/25/us/minnesota-man-charged-inkilling-of-second-honeywell-co-worker.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm. [15 March 2012].

Armour, S. 2004. Inside the Minds of Workplace Killers. [Online]. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2004-07-14-workplace-killings_x.htm . [15 March 2012].

Bovsun, M. 2012. Mailman Massacre: 14 Die after Patrick Sherill “goes postal” in 1986 Shootings. [Online]. Available: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-0815/news/27072662_1_part-time-letter-carrier-howard-unruh-spree-killings. [15 March 2012].

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CCNRC Education/ Workplace Violence and Bomb Threats. [Online]. Available: http://ccnrceducation.pbworks.com/w/page/7190506/Workplace%20Violence%20and%2 0Bomb%20Threats . [15 March 2012]

Indvik, J., Johnson, P. R. 1996. Stress and Violence in the Workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 8 (1): 19-24

Isaacs, Ar. R., Rugala E. A. 2003. Workplace Violence – Issues in Response. Critical Incident Response Group – National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime – FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. 1-80

Kleiner, B.H., Whitmore L. 1999. Violence in the Wolrkplace. Management Research News, 22 (8): 12-17

Laganga, M.L., Wride, N. 1986. Murder in the Office: At Best, Life in an Unemployment Office is Frustrating. [Online]. Available: http://articles.latimes.com/1986-08-03/magazine/tm946_1_edd. [15 March 2012].

North Atlantic Area Products and Services. 2010. [Online]. Available: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=14706 . [15 March 2012]

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Tyme, J. Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention FAQs, Facts & Answers. [Online]. Available: http://www.ideasandtraining.com/Workplace-Violence-Prevention-Article.html . [15 March 2012].

Violence, Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. 2007. 1-21

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