A couple of events prompted this post. First, as I was driving to work last week, I saw a car sporting an "Insured by Smith & Wesson" bumper sticker. Perhaps this will officially out me as an employment law nerd, but, being that it was on a vehicle, this bumper sticker made me think of Florida’s Bring Gun to Work, which I’ve posted about before. Interestingly (scarily?), that law (Fla. Stat. 790.251) is one of the most searched terms on this blog.
Then, as those of you in this area have undoubtedly heard, there was an incident in Naples where an Ave Maria School of Law student was arrested for attempted murder, after allegedly threatening to shoot and even shooting at two fellow law students. This story has received widespread media coverage. Of course the local papers like the News-Press and Naples Daily News have covered it with multiple articles, but it was even picked up by national legal publications like the ABA Journal (article) and top legal blog Above the Law(article).
How is this relevant to you and your workplace? Interestingly (to the employment law dork, at least!), the Above the Law article quotes Ave Maria’s spokesperson, who said the school "doesn’t have a policy regarding students who are arrested." Now, this guy was a student, not an employee, but this quote still raises a whole host of issues in my mind. Should you have a policy on arrests? Should you have a policy on workplace violence? What if your employee is arrested for a violent act after hours, remains employed, then later commits a violent act at work?
While I could go on at length about these and other issues implicated here, I want to focus on a couple of things you, as business owners and HR professionals, can — and should — do to address violence at your workplace.
More after the jump.
First, you should have a workplace violence policy. Your policy should address issues such as unacceptable behavior, consequences for such behavior, guidelines for reporting workplace violence (including anti-retaliation provision), possession of weapons in the workplace, and employee/supervisor responsibilities with respect to workplace violence. Consider making it a zero-tolerance policy against violence in the workplace. Remember, however, that the Florida Bring Gun to Work law prevents employers from banning firearms on their premises under certain conditions (detailed in this post).
Next, if you don’t already, consider conducting background checks of job applicants. While the details of what you can/cannot do with respect to background checks deserve their own post, establishing standard procedures for background checks is an essential part of any company’s overall plan to minimize workplace violence. It can also help mitigate claims like negligent hiring and negligent retention.
Also, consider offering an employee assistance program (EAP) as a resource for employees. An EAP can be used for counseling services, dealing with a variety of issues from dependence to anger management.
Though not an exhaustive list, when put into place, these steps may help decrease the likelihood of workplace violence. One final piece of advice: as always, make certain you consistently apply the policies. If you choose to adopt a zero tolerance policy, make sure it is applied equally across the board. Same with background checks — do not screen some applicants but not others.