Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ethical Analysis of Workplace Violence

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Patrick Sherill, a post office employee in Edmond, Oklahoma had a history of work problems and knew that he soon faced termination. On August 0, 186 he returned to the post office in which he once worked and killed 14 postal employees and soon after killed himself. This is just one of many examples of workplace violence, an ethical issue that is growing at an alarming rate in the U.S. Violence in the workplace has now reached epidemic levels according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice predicted that one in four employees would be victimized by workplace violence.

The Workplace Violence Research Institute, located in Palm Springs, CA. and established in 1, conducts studies and research into the causes of violence in the workplace. The Workplace Violence Research Institute also develops effective methods to help reduce the potential for incidents and provide consulting services to assist companies and organizations to assess the risk of workplace violence. The Institute defines workplace violence as “Any act against an employee that creates a hostile work environment and negatively affects the employee either physically or psychologically.

About 1,000,000 individuals are victims of some form of a violent crime in the workplace each year and about 00 are killed. This represents 15% of all violent crimes committed annually in America. Workplace violence can include verbal threats, fistfights, rape, shootings, stabbings, and possibly death. Murder in the workplace is now one of the fastest growing types of homicide in the United States. In 1, it was reported that an average of three people were murdered on the job every workday. There was also a report of at least 150 workers murdered in the workplace each year between the years 180 and 18. In 14, The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conducted a survey, which provide results from the point of view of human resource managers on violence in the workplace. The results of the survey were illuminating and gave a certain feel for violence in the workplace. According to the survey, when regarding violent incidents in the workplace, it stated that 1.% of all managers surveyed experienced at least one violent incident in the workplace. The survey also stated that most of the incidents were either employee to employee (1.54%), employee against supervisor (.1%), and customers against workers (.7%). There was also a reporting that the effects of violent incidents in the workplace increased stress levels, caused higher levels of paranoia, and increased distrust among employees.

Violence in the workplace can be attributed to angry customers, clients, and lovers or spouses of employees. Now, Americans are beginning to completely understand that workplace violence is a problem of national scope and can affect anyone. Workplace violence has many causes and can in turn effect not only the people involved but the company or organization involved as well, but there are also ways to prevent such mishaps from occurring.

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There are several reasons for a person to commit such heinous crimes. One instance is that the assailant may have had deep effecting issues occurring in their life. Several studies have shown that these assailants often had a history of frustrating life experiences. Another instance is that many of the employees had grievances or disciplinary actions pending at the time of the attacks. The most common known reasons for violence in the workplace are revenge, jealousy, and financial gain. Some classic warning signs are chronically poor and inadequate work performance, conflicts with the supervisor and/or other employees, unfounded grievance and complaints, abuse of sick leave, and view of self as a “victim.” Any threat of violence from an employee, subtle or direct, should be taken seriously, then documented and investigated by the appropriate authorities.

Equally important is the termination process. The single biggest trigger of rampage-type attacks in the workplace by employees is termination. How the firing is done can make the difference between a routine event and a crisis. Lastly, there is negligent hiring and negligent retention. Negligent hiring and negligent retention are fodder for lawsuits when store management fails to screen the applicants it employs. Negligent hiring occurs when, prior to hiring, the employer knew or should have known that a particular applicant was not fit for the job. Failure to adequately screen applicants results in a liability for the employer. Negligent retention occurs when and employer becomes aware of an employee’s unsuitability or should be aware of it and fails to act on that knowledge. For example, a furniture store advertised for a deliveryman, and then hired a large, muscular man whose application indicated a history of delivering furniture. The store hired him without checking the information on his application. Later, the man raped a customer in her home when he came to deliver furniture. The women sued the store, charging negligent hiring because it failed to check out the man’s past. Had it checked, it would have found that the man was fired from his last delivery job because he made suggestive remarks to a female customer. He was also fired from the job before that because he touched a female customer in an inappropriate manner.

Two categories of victims emerge Supervisors and domestic partners. Although no organized central effort currently exists to collect data on the characteristics of these cases, many media reports cite the initial intended victim as a former or current supervisor. While at one time employers could fire employees with no fear of repercussions, they now must contend not only with avoiding employee-filed lawsuits but also with avoiding violence. Obviously, employers should handle terminations with concern for the well being of the person being fired and for the safety of those who remain employed.

Domestic disputes can also spill over into the workplace, accounting for some percentage of all workplace violence incidents, A 15 survey ranked domestic violence high on a list of security concerns and % of those surveyed stated that domestic violence is increasing as a corporate issue. For employees being stalked, the workplace is the one location where the victims can be found. An employee can easily change their phone number or address, but it’s not as easy to switch jobs. Such is the case with Francescia La Rose, and employee of State Mutual Life Insurance. While at work in her Houston office, her ex-boyfriend entered the reception area where La Rose worked and shot her in her head.

While these incidents have grave affects on victims and other employees, the company or organization also suffers terribly. It is estimated that violent crime in the workplace caused some 500,000 employees to miss 1,751,000 days of work annually, or an average of .5 days per incident. This missed work equated to approximately $55,000,000. Also, the company or organization may suffer due to lawsuits filed against the company. In one case, an Amtrak employee shot and seriously wounded his supervisor. The action, Smith vs. Amtrak (187) was brought because of Amtrak’s alleged failure to discipline the employee for previous actions that indicated violent tendencies. Because the employee had attacked other employees, the court ruled the verdict was foreseeable and held Amtrak responsible for negligent retention, awarding the supervisor $.5 million from Amtrak. Another landmark case in which negligent hiring was the main factor came in 17 with a $750,000 award against Avis Rent-A-Car. Avis management failed to check the application of a man before hiring him. The employee subsequently raped a co-worker. Had Avis checked the employee’s background, it would have discovered that during the time the applicant listed as being in high school and college, he was actually serving a three-year sentence in prison on a robbery conviction.

No company can completely prevent or eliminate workplace violence, but with proper planning and effective programs, the chance of such violent occurrences can be dramatically reduced. As in the case with domestic violence, because the courts consistently have held employers liable for protecting employees from know hazards and for the peace and efficiency of the workplace, employers should enact special security measures when their employees bring problems to their attention. There are also ways in which to prevent workplace violence during terminations. One way is for management to carefully recruit new employees and train and manage them well. Managers should repeatedly evaluate themselves in terms of helping the employee grow and change. Another way is to warn workers that they could possibly be terminated. Warn them of their unsatisfactory work and tell them what needs to be done to improve. Also, never layoff workers unexpectedly and with no warning or workers who have had good appraisals. Doing so hits the employee hard and causes anger. Another good tip is to remember to allow the employee’s esteem to stay high. Don’t attack them or put them down, and explain your decision, acknowledging their strengths. And last of all never write ex-employees bad references. Never try to ruin their chances with another career by stating how poorly they performed. Try to find something positive to say and give a balanced opinion of the individual. Prevention programs are excellent ways of dealing with workplace violence also. An effective workplace violence prevention program includes physical security, pre-employment screening, good termination practices, employee assistance programs, and a host of other options.

Although the epidemic of workplace violence is continuing to grow at alarming rates in the country and affecting the lives of many people, supervisors, managers and employees must remember to take in consideration how our actions will affect others.

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