Few of us have not heard of Ryan Young, the Del Rey Oaks Safeway employee, who lost his job for his Good Samaritan act of protecting a pregnant woman from her boyfriend’s violence, inside the store! He won admirers even in the police force, from officers who saw a video of the incident as well as the city’s mayor. He also earned supporters who took the time and trouble to demonstrate outside Safeway stores, to protest against the store’s decision to fire him. The fact remains that his ‘heroic’ act violated Safeway’s stringent ‘Zero Tolerance to Workplace Violence’ policy, but his popularity helped him get reinstated with back pay – with Safeway managers capitulating to concede that he did act courageously and correctly.
As always, an exception only goes to prove the rule.
It is undeniably rare for an act of violence (at the workplace or anywhere else) to gain such vindication. With a recent presidential order directing all federal agencies to develop policies to prevent and respond to domestic violence that affects the workplace, it is high time we looked at what goes into a workplace violence policy and understood why it is deemed so important and necessary. Putting a zero tolerance policy in place is the way to go, as it safeguards the employer from charges of negligence and makes it easier to act swiftly and decisively – and nip disruptive behaviors in the bud.
The trick lies in drafting a well-documented policy, providing the various stakeholders with clear instructions on allowed action in the face of violence, which could occur in different scenarios.
Violent acts could involve
Employees who perceive or actually suffer bad treatment at the workplace tend to be the perpetrators of violence in most cases; but violence hardly ever erupts abruptly. It is usually preceded by acts of disobedience, absenteeism and minor incidents involving the violation of company policies. Signs of disturbance in the person’s behavior would be clearly present and visible. The person may also be critical of company policy and be very suspicious of people around him.
The onus of recognizing an employee’s propensity for violence and other disruptive acts lies with the employer. It starts at the time of hiring an employee, using personal references and criminal background checks. Managers and supervisors need to be vigilant in identifying any indicative behavioral patterns. Failure to adequately and accurately document any instance involving violence or even threats of violence could have serious legal and financial consequences. . It is extremely important to stay true to the company’s policy in letter and spirit, with consistency and regularity – and put in efforts to meet OSHA’s stipulations on creating a ‘safe and healthful working environment’.
Other precautions include:
The comprehensive nature of steps taken by an employer to protect the employees and provide them with a safe work environment make thorough business sense apart from meeting ethical considerations. It translates to better compliance and also boosts employee satisfaction, leading to greater productivity.
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