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VI. The biggest challenge.

More than 20 million Americans, nearly one in every five in the non-government U.S. labor force, work for firms that have fewer than 20 employees. Firms with payrolls between 20 and 100 employ almost another 20 million U.S. workers. Small businesses account for the vast majority of employers. Among the nation's 5.6 million private employers, almost four-fifths have between one and nine employees. **

While small employers cover the full range of income and occupations, they are also the typical employers of the lowest-paid, lowest-status workers, including immigrants and members of ethnic minorities. (Small Business Administration statistics indicate that annual pay in businesses with fewer than 20 workers is almost 25 percent less than in firms employing 500 or more.) Minority employers represent a large majority in the small-business category.

Employees working in lower-paying jobs for small employers face no less risk of violence on the job than any other group of workers. For many reasons, however, they are almost certainly the least likely to get protection from violence-prevention efforts. Consequently, reaching those employers and employees and finding ways to extend antiviolence programs into their workplaces may be the most challenging task facing any national effort to reduce workplace violence.

The hurdles to violence prevention in small businesses are numerous and high. With very few exceptions, small employers will not have their own security force, training capability, employee assistance program, medical service, legal advisers, or human resources department. They will ordinarily have less capacity than big companies to screen job applicants and are less likely to have formal policies or procedures for employees to report threats or violence. They are similarly less likely to have an established, continuing relationship with law enforcement or social service agencies.

Small business owners and managers typically lack specialized knowledge or skills in legal and human resources issues related to workplace violence and may not be aware of resources available to help deal with a troubled or potentially violent worker, threats, stalking, or domestic abuse affecting an employee or other violence-related problems. This may be even more true when the employee, the work force, or both are from immigrant or minority communities and are separated by culture or language from the majority culture and its institutions.

Employees in small firms, especially low-wage workers, are less likely than other U.S. workers to have medical insurance or sick leave and thus are more vulnerable to the consequences of a violent incident. In many cases, they may also be less aware and less able to pursue their legal rights and thus more vulnerable to threats and punish-the-victim practices.

To meet the special challenge of extending workplace violence protection to small businesses, the business, law enforcement, occupational safety, and social service communities should consider a variety of possible actions. These could include programs to:

* Design model violence-prevention programs and accompanying training courses and materials that are specifically tailored to the needs and resources of small employers.

* Conduct outreach and awareness campaigns to familiarize small employers with the violence issue and disseminate model programs.

* Put workplace violence on the agenda for community policing programs, and add it to the list of concerns police officers address in their contacts with community groups and neighborhood businesses in a proactive effort to encourage reporting of incidents and/or problematic behavior to prevent violence.

* Compile and distribute lists of resources available to help employers deal with harassment of all types, threats and threatening behavior or violent incidents (e.g. mental health providers, public-interest law clinics, police, or other threat assessment specialists, etc.)

* Enlist the help of existing advocacy and community groups in publicizing workplace violence and prevention issues. Potential partners in this effort include neighborhood antiviolence and crime-watch committees, antidomestic violence activists, antidiscrimination organizations, ethnic associations, immigrant rights groups, and others.

* Develop proposals for economic incentives such as insurance premium discounts or tax credits for small business managers who attend training or implement anti-violence plans.

* Establish cooperative projects in which larger local employers, labor unions, insurers, and business or industry associations, in cooperation with local law enforcement, help provide training and assistance in violence prevention for small business owners and employees.

* Incorporate an antiviolence message and suggested prevention plans in material distributed with Small Business Administration loan applications, licensing forms, inspection notices, correspondence on workers' compensation claims, and other federal, state, and local government documents that reach all employers.

* Create public service announcements and Web pages that call attention to workplace violence issues, outline antiviolence measures, and list sources of assistance and support.

These and similar measures will be more effective if they occur in the context of a broader national effort by government, employer groups, and law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of workplace violence prevention. During the last two decades, the Occupational Safety and Health Act has heightened public consciousness of other workplace hazards, while the activities of women's rights and other advocacy organizations brought increased recognition and dramatically changed attitudes toward domestic violence. In similar fashion, if a national constituency evolves with the aim of expanding knowledge and public concern about workplace violence, that almost certainly represents the best avenue to extend preventive efforts to those employers and employees with the fewest resources of their own.

** Source: Employer Firms, Establishments, Employment, Annual Payroll and Receipts by Firm Size, 1988-1999. Office of Advocacy, U.S. Small Business Association. The full chart is available at the SBA website:
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Title Annotation:Preventing workplace violence in Small businesses
Publication:Workplace Violence Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 10, 2002
Previous Article:V. Legal issues.
Next Article:VII. A special case: violence against health care workers.

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