Workplace Violence Prevention in Action – Q&A With an Expert

Matt Doherty, Managing Director of Workforce Risk Management at Sikich, shares his expertise in creating workplace violence prevention programs. This content is adapted from a previous version interview and blog that was published and is available on AlertMedia.

Matt Doherty is the Managing Director of Workforce Risk Management services at Sikich. Matt brings extensive experience gained in four decades of distinguished service helping organizations build and expand violence prevention programs; assess and manage violence risks; train and empower workforces; and gain the business benefits that come with safe and supportive workplaces. After retiring from the United States Secret Service as the U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the National Threat Assessment Center, Matt, with his Workforce Management Team, now develops workplace violence prevention policies and training programs that help employers advance a culture of security and safety and provide assistance when warning signs are identified.

Is workplace violence really an issue in the manufacturing sector?

We think so. Some two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year, and while some business sectors are at increased risk, no organization is immune. What leaders might not know is that workplace homicides are only a small percentage of incidents; a much larger risk lies in nonfatal workplace violence incidents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest analysis cited 392 workplace homicides in 2020 yet 37,060 nonfatal injuries in the workplace resulting from an intentional injury by another person.

Is there a return on investment for establishing these programs?

Investments in workplace violence prevention continually show positive returns for proactive organizations. Reacting to a serious incident of workplace violence is exponentially more expensive than taking proactive measures for prevention. A major incident of workplace violence typically results in a 50% decline in productivity for the organization; 20-40% employee turnover; $500,000 average out of court settlement; and the average jury award for a lawsuit is $3 million. For manufacturing companies, where operations must run daily, these results can significantly harm production.

Employers implementing proactive workplace violence prevention programs are likely to find sound economic benefits that go far beyond improved safety and security and reduced risk of lawsuits and settlements. Some of these benefits include improved employee retention and morale; an enhanced workplace culture and climate; and increased reporting of disruptive and concerning behavior as well as red flags, providing a greater opportunity for early intervention before problems escalate.

Many publicly traded companies cite workplace violence as a risk factor in its financial disclosures. In 2019, Dave and Busters, a restaurant and entertainment arcade franchise, specifically cited in its SEC filing that workplace violence is a potential risk to its bottom line: “Any act of violence or threatened against our stores or the centers in which they are located…may result in restricted access to our stores and/or store closures. Any such situation could materially adversely affect our business.” Implementing effective programs can offset these financial risks.

Are there regulatory guidelines that support workplace violence prevention programs in an organization to justify the investment?

Certainly. Every business has ethical, moral and legal obligations to protect its employees from harm. Several regulatory bodies support these obligations that should resonate with organizational leaders:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSH Act) General Duty Clauserequires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers. Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited.
  • In 2011, the Society of Human Resource Management and ASIS, a professional organization for security professionals, collaborated to issue workplace violence prevention standards that are still in effective today. This standard provides an overview of policies, processes and protocols that companies can adopt to better address and resolve threats and violence.

Do you find that most organizations are fairly mature and your job is to smooth out the edges? Or do people have a long way to go to improve what they’re doing?

It runs the gamut; we’ve had Fortune 500 companies with programs that needed development, as well as mid-sized companies that had robust programs we applaud. Part of our work is to review those programs to help companies enhance its workplace violence prevention procedures and training. You’d be surprised that some well-known organizations have a long way to go. We help these companies develop a program to align workplace violence prevention principles, communicate leadership support, and create or modify its policies and procedures – and then we build and deliver customized training.

For example, in many companies, we’ve noticed the term “zero tolerance” in the employee handbook or code of ethics; a phrase that states workplace violence won’t be tolerated. We understand and agree that an organization has zero tolerance if there is a direct threat against an employee or a physical fight in the lobby, for example. However, while that may be the right policy for escalated situations, a zero-tolerance policy is too punitive for many other issues in workplace violence prevention.

Is there a common theme that you see in your recommendations?

One issue that companies often neglect is the risk of domestic violence spilling over into the workplace. Domestic violence is actually a huge issue for U.S. companies. Almost 40% of women killed in the workplace are killed by an intimate partner. An example of violence prevention in play is to look at whether an organization has a policy to safeguard employees with a protective or restraining order against an intimate partner. We’ve regularly found that a company was unaware of protective orders – when it really could take positive, proactive violence prevention steps.

How do you help organizations train its people to be comfortable with speaking up?

One reason employees don’t report concerning behavior is because of the punitive nature of policies that state workplace violence won’t be tolerated. People don’t want to throw their coworkers under the bus. One solution is for leadership to continuously emphasize to employees the non-punitive nature of reporting: that workplace violence prevention programs are not there to get colleagues in trouble. Rather, it’s there to ensure the safety of the workplace and provide support and resources for employees who may be struggling.

Can you talk more about your approach to training when you work with organizations?

We bucket our workplace violence prevention training into three principal audiences: the entire workforce, people leaders and the threat management team. We then develop different training suitable for each.

What are some roadblocks to early intervention and workplace violence prevention?

Roadblocks are commonplace, but the good news is they are correctable with buy-in from leadership. Some examples include lack of awareness about the knowable indicators of behaviors that could point to a potential attack; poor understanding of risk and mitigation measures; and absence of a formal workplace violence prevention program. These roadblocks are a direct result of shortfalls in policies, training, sustained executive sponsorship and commitment.

In the manufacturing industry, it’s important to implement and enforce workplace violence prevention programs. Don’t know where to start? We do. Contact our workforce risk management experts to learn more.

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. In addition, this publication may contain certain content generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) language model. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

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