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Over the edge: managing violent episodes.

WHETHER YOU are a proprietary security director or a contract protection specialist, if you have been confronted with workplace violence, you have quickly realized that no exact formula to treat this problem exists. When such an incident occurs, it shifts like the sand.

Mental health practitioners have asserted and security professionals have experienced the fact that violence is an increasingly accepted form of self-expression. It is now common for various kinds of violence, whether talk or acts, to manifest themselves in the workplace.

Violent acts may involve threats or acts by not only an employee but also a jilted suitor of an employee, a disgruntled competitor, or some other grieving third party outside the company.

Beyond the impact a violent act in the workplace has on productivity, morale, and company focus looms the question of cost. How much money will your company or client have to commit before the matter is resolved?

Many employers have developed reactive policies to manage violence and threats of violence in the workplace. Invariably, during an individual's metamorphosis from an effective, socially integrated member of the work force to a violence-prone disrupter, a point is reached where the employer must take definite action.

This action could be disciplinary proceedings handled by the human resources staff, counseling by in-house or outside mental health professionals, or suspension or termination for cause by the company.

No matter what the employer's approach to forestalling adverse consequences of dissident behavior may be, some variables cut across the spectrum of the company's management and its goals. These variables can and must be identified, addressed, and excised - at a cost.

The arsenal available to the security professional confronted by a company in distress includes tools such as physical protection, logistics, analysis, public agency liaison, communications, transportation, and a number of other strategies.

Many of these strategies overlap, scoff at organizational pecking order, undermine management styles, and conflict with fiscal practices and company goals. And these strategies and their costs, more than the violent acts or any related threats, are viewed by many companies as the real crisis.

WORKPLACE DISRUPTIONS SHOULD BE handled as they evolve - before, during, and after the event. The following cases illustrate this strategy:

Case 1. This case takes place in a facility that houses production and research operations. Access to the facility's six buildings is through two main gates and one railroad siding. All structures are electronically access controlled and equipped with CCTV, which is monitored by a central console operator.

In this case the employer suspended an employee who made guarded but concise injury and death threats to his supervisor, who had given the employee poor marks in a recent performance evaluation and denied him a salary increase or bonus.

Outside psychologists who interviewed the employee about the threats were convinced the employee had the mind-set and history to commit violent acts against the supervisor and the company's CEO. Additional investigation indicated the disciplined employee threatened individuals in two previous jobs. The company sought a "stay away" order against the employee, who was ultimately terminated.

The company's crisis management decision-making team provided on-site protection to the two threatened principals - the employee's supervisor and the CEO. The principals continued to keep their usual erratic work schedules - the supervisor working late nights and weekends on research projects, the CEO continuing his heavy travel schedule and unpredictable appearances in the facility.

A restraining order was successfully served on the employee, and he relocated to another state.

Case 2. This case took place at a firm's regional headquarters, which occupies two floors of a high-rise office building. The headquarters building has a 24-hour, in-house security force whose chief is a retired police detective. The elevators can be locked electronically to preclude entry to any floor at any time.

A clerical worker at the firm had her life threatened repeatedly by her estranged husband, who suspected her of having an affair with one of her managers, who was also threatened by the husband. The husband had a history of alcohol and hard narcotics abuse, and the marriage had been punctuated by a series of jealous outrages during the time of her current employment.

The husband had physically accosted the woman on her way to and from work several times in public places. On occasion, she fled to a nearby building, asking its security personnel to protect her.

After one such episode, the firm's human resources department gave her medical leave. On her return to work, the employee and her manager begin receiving frequent telephone calls from the husband, who threatened to kill them and others in the company.

An electromagnetic lock was installed on the company's front door to be monitored and managed by a receptionist when present. Building security was notified of the continuing nature of the problem. The police were also contacted.

One afternoon the husband arrived at the office and shot and seriously wounded his wife. He then walked around the open office work area, shooting randomly for approximately 20 minutes, killing or wounding many people. He was ultimately cornered and shot to death by police.

The first incident had a happy ending, the second a devastating and horrifying one. Both make the case for applying cost-control parameters while using effective security and crisis management techniques.

In the first case, the company's crisis management decision-making team provided on-site protection to the two threatened principals and increased off-hours physical security at the facility. But it did not treat possibilities of sabotage or business disruption as a priority. Therefore, the logistics are somewhat simplified and the costs more readily identifiable.

In this case, the major cost was in personnel assigned for executive protection. This is a one-to-one dollar expense calculated by multiplying the number of security personnel by the number of hours in the projected term of coverage and any subsequent extension increments.

The only variable here relates to how long the protection team should be onsite before the principal arrives. Peripheral expenditures include continued investigation of the disciplined employee, service of legal papers on the employee, exterior access control on weekends, liaison with local police, and subsequent meetings of all or part of the crisis management team.

At this point, a sliding scale must be applied to cost control, but containment is possible. You can identify comparative costs and savings by answering the following questions:

* To what degree can you depend on the local police for investigation, emergency response, and security patrol in the vicinity?

* Who should serve the restraining order - legal counsel, a process server, or a member of the executive protection team?

Keep in mind that several attempts or even days of surveillance might be required depending on the ousted employee's itinerary.

* Who should maintain gate and railroad siding entry control - in-house security on overtime, contract security officers, or members of the executive protection team?

* Who should conduct any additional investigation - the security director or a private investigator?

* Should there be an increased off-hour and weekend security presence, and if so, should it be handled by in-house, contract, or executive protection team members?

In the second scenario, a similar series of questions can be asked that might foster cost avoidance as well as a preventive operation. In this case the end quite probably would have been different.

Since physical security measures and hardware were in place, those costs were already a constant. Based on the assumption that the wife would remain employed by the company and assigned to the same office, the sliding scale of cost appears. Some questions to consider are as follows:

* If injunctive relief is sought, how would the husband be notified and by whom?

* Should an executive protection team be hired, and if so, who should be its principals?

* Can protection responsibility be limited to the workplace, and if so, what parts of the workplace?

* What additional mechanical and electronic security measures could be included in daily access control?

* What legal, internally generated method of confronting the husband might be used? Using what resource?

* What sort of information exchange with the building security and management could be initiated?

* What benefits could develop from liaison with the police department?

* What would it take to define security inadequacies and overcome them?

* How much of the work force is threatened, and how many protection personnel would it take to secure them and their work areas?

In both of the cited scenarios the following types of questions apply:

* How involved should security professionals be in the ongoing decision-making processes and analyses after the event?

* Can all necessary information be transmitted without formal meetings?

Enormous variables are encountered in the control of workplace violence. This is due partly to dealing with the vagaries of the human mind, the stresses of modern life, and the importance business places on its fiscal decisions.

After violence punctuates the lives of the employee and his or her co-workers, what follows may be a situation that debilitates morale, productivity, and overall function. It is during this period of postevent management that the security professional's responsibility is the greatest and his or her recommendations the most criticized.

It is possible to manage these transgressions with intelligence and finality while committing financial resources in a responsible manner. This can be achieved by ensuring the availability of individuals and services best suited to address each component of the crisis effectively.

About the Author . . . Forrest P. Franklin, CPP, is executive consultant to Enquiries, a disaster planning and crisis management firm in Alameda, CA. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Special Seminar Issue; workplace violence
Author:Franklin, Forrest P.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:On the edge: assessing the violent employee.
Next Article:Security Intelligence Sourcebook.

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