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Workplace violence hits home: are you ready?(Instructor's Note)


The primary subject matter of this case concerns human resource management, workplace violence, and organizational politics. The case can be used to explore the intricacies of developing a HR workplace violence policy and getting that policy adopted by upper administration. Students are asked to develop a written workplace violence prevention policy. Developing such a policy requires them to research the elements which should be included in such a policy, to develop a plan of action to implement the workplace violence policy, to identify the critical issues of risk/liability to the company's officials, management's responsibility and legal liability for maintaining a safe work environment, and how to get senior management to "buy off" on the plan. The case has a difficulty level of three. The case can be presented and discussed in two to four class periods depending on the number of issues considered. Students can be expected to spend about 10 hours of outside preparation to be fully prepared to complete the case.


Digital Logistics Systems (DLS), as is true of many companies, never considered the possibility of workplace violence. However, a near fist fight in the Advertising/ Promotions department brought the issue firmly to the attention of Tom Ross, the department manager. By chance, the incident was overheard by Sarah Davis, the HR manager. Ross and Davis meet over the issue, where it is agreed that Ross will handle the disciplinary action for the employees while Davis will develop a workplace violence prevention plan. Davis recognizes that not only will she need to develop the plan, and develop a program to implement it, perhaps her biggest task will be in convincing upper management of the necessity of adopting the plan.


This case provides an opportunity for students to write a workplace violence policy. In order to write such a policy, students will need to conduct considerable out of class research into the components of such a policy. These instructor notes include information that will be useful to the discussion leader in guiding students through the delicate political web of writing a human resource management policy and securing adoption of that policy.

The preferred teaching strategy for this case includes student assignments and class discussion. After assigning the case for reading ask the students to prepare written responses to the questions listed below in the "discussion questions" section. Since the case involves writing a policy, the difficulty level of the case and the amount of out of class time needed to complete it can vary by how many, if any, of the issues the policy should cover are provided by the instructor. Researching all of the potential issues that a workplace violence policy should contain and then writing a policy which incorporates all of them will obviously require more time than if those elements are provided to the students. The instructor may choose to use teams to write up the policy. Each team could present its policy in class and be critiqued by the other teams.

To provide an introduction to the complexities of workplace violence, the instructor may want to use a video to frame the issues. Three excellent videos are available. Violence on the Job discusses the effect of violence and ways to prevent and reduce violence in the workplace. This 27 minute, 2004, video is produced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is available as a videotape and for our of class viewing is available on line at

Workplace Violence: The Legal Role in Keeping Your Workplace Safe is a 17 minute video which illustrates the legal obligation managers face in preventing workplace violence. It identifies five common issues managers face, and offers three specific actions they can implement immediately to prevent violence and avoid liability. Workplace Violence: Danger on the Job is a 46 minute video which appeared on "Investigative Reports with Bill Kurtis" on the A & E Television Network. The 2001 video examines instances of workplace violence and examines methods of keeping all safe on the job.

Note that the decision point in this case is very apparent, Davis will have to develop a workplace violence policy and then sell that policy to upper management. The complexity of the case can be increased by also dealing with "turf battles" by having Davis a staff person take over the disciplinary actions of the two employees from Ross a line manager. Similarly, the complexity of the case can be reduced if the instructor provides students with a list of the elements a workplace violence policy should include.

This case will allow the instructor to meet the following objectives: To explore:

* the issues involved in developing a workplace violence policy.

* the political implications of getting a policy adopted by upper administration.

* the responsibility / accountability issue of company management in preventing workplace violence.


This case revolves around the development of a workplace violence policy. When a line manager and the HR director became aware of the importance of having a workplace violence prevention policy, the HR director realized that she must develop such a policy and then persuade upper management to adopt it.

The strength of the case lies in combining research, writing and persuasion skills. Students must demonstrate the importance and the necessity of a workplace violence prevention policy, examine the elements such a policy should contain, and write both a policy and a plan for its implementation. Students must also develop a strategy for convincing upper management of the need to implement such a policy. The instructor has the flexibility of deciding how much policy content will be provided to the students.


1. What would a workplace violence plan look like?

A comprehensive plan should address the following issues: the company's legal liability, which include legal accountability of the company officials; risk management and the resulting insurance implications; what constitutes a safe work environment; what are appropriate and more importantly, inappropriate behaviors?; what is enough versus what is too much security?; surveillance versus privacy issues; potential use of employee identification cards; effects of security measures on employee turnover, productivity, and morale; how are visitors to the building treated?; what changes to the physical nature of the building are required?

2. Can a workplace violence plan actually prevent violence from occurring?

No plan is foolproof, but did they consider what actions can be achieved to minimize the likelihood of violence?

3. What is the company's legal responsibility with respect to workplace violence? Does any legal liability fall upon the company officials i.e., senior management?

While legal questions are settled in the courts, the answer should reflect an awareness of the fact that companies, and senior management, can be held liable for actions which occur in the workplace. Based on the principle of negligence, employers are being held responsible for providing a safe workplace (e.g. Fenton, Kelly, Ruud, & Bulloch, 1997; and Paetzold, O'Leary-Kelly, & Griffin, 2007).

4. How can Davis convince upper administration of the need to adopt a workplace violence prevention plan?

Davis should do so with data provided in Table 2. Urge them to take a proactive approach to avoid potential problems and to minimize company exposure. It is also a moral and ethical issue.

4a. (Optional issue). Should senior management be made aware of the incident which occurred in the Advertising/Promotions department?

The answer should reflect awareness that while such a disclosure might help Davis build the case for adopting a violence prevention policy, it also opens the door to a number of political issues: What are the distinctions between line and staff areas of responsibility and authority? What role should HR play in the "cleaning up the aftermath" of the incident [i.e. should HR take over, or leave the issue to Tom?] What role should HR have in disciplining the employees? Should HR conduct any follow up with the offending employees?

5. Once adopted, how would the plan be implemented?

There would need to be a formal written policy on workplace violence and a method of dissemination of the policy to all current and future employees of the company. In all likelihood, workplace violence will need to be included in the company training programs.


Armour, S. (2004, July 19). Managers not prepared for workplace violence. USA TODAY. Retrieved February 6, 2008 from 2004-07-15-workplace-violence2_x.htm.

Atlanta car dealer killed 2 employees because they kept asking for raises. (2007, July 31). Associated Press wire service.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor, (2005) Retrieved October 21, 2007 from

Evans, K., & Zarda. M. (Eds.). (2008). Prevention and Early Resolution of Workplace Conflict: Bibliography. Mediation Training Institute International. Retrieved February 6, 2008 from

Fenton, J. W., Jr., Kelley, D. E., Ruud, W. N., & Bulloch, J. A. (1997). Employer legal liability for employee workplace violence. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal, 62(4), 44-48.

Kurtis, B. (Executive Producer)., & Arkow, K. (Producer). 2001. Workplace violence: Danger on the job. [Videotape]. Originally part of the Investigative Reports Television series]. (Available from A & E Home Video, New York).

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (Producer). (2004). "Violence on the Job'" [Videotape]. (Available from Dept. of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Atlanta, Ga. Also available online at

Paetzold, R. L., O'Leary-Kelly, A., & Griffin, R. W. (2007). Workplace violence, employer liability, and implications for organizational research. Journal of Management Inquiry, 16, 362-370.

VisionPoint Productions (Producer). (2001). Workplace violence: The legal role in keeping your workplace safe. [Videotape]. (Available from: VisionPoint Productions. Des Moines, IA).

Carrol Haggard, Fort Hays State University

Patricia LaPoint, McMurry University
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Title Annotation:Instructor's Note
Author:Haggard, Carrol; LaPoint, Patricia
Publication:Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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