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Your company’s workforce violence policy might not be enough

Written on Oct 13, 2022

By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager  

Companies must do more than tell their staff they “won’t tolerate violence” to properly protect their employees, said one former Secret Service Agent. 

“That's not an epiphany that it shouldn't be tolerated,” said Matt Doherty, managing director of workforce risk management at Sikich. “But what are the warning signs that your coworker is a victim of domestic abuse? Or if there's untreated mental health issues, bullying, or a potentially concerning termination?” 

Doherty develops workplace violence prevention programs following OSHA and Society of Human Resource Management guidelines, provides training to the general workforce and oversees a threat management team. He retired from the Secret Service as the agent in charge of the National Threat Assessment Center. 

Too often Doherty said he works with companies that have a line in the employee handbook that “Workplace violence won’t be tolerated” and nothing else. While it might be uncomfortable, examining and improving workplace violence policies is becoming a larger issue in today’s workforce.  

Most companies reach out to Doherty because they are already following guidelines from entities like OSHA or the SHRM and want to be proactive, or they've had an incident where they’ve experienced some level of violence and want to set up a more thorough prevention program.  

Violence prevention also extends to what employees could be experiencing at home. The Department of Labor recently came out with a statistic that 40% of women killed in the workplace are killed by an intimate partner. Doherty said one of the most common questions he gets from companies is how to deal with domestic abuse in the workforce.   

When looking at a violence prevention program, Doherty said it’s crucial to include more information on warning signs and enforce a non-punitive nature of reporting.  

“If you're concerned about your coworker and want to let someone know, the idea is you're not getting them in trouble, it’s to get them the help they need,” he said. 

When terminating employees, Doherty said to consider looking at their social media ahead of time to check for any concerning content that might indicate a cause for concern. Companies can reach out to local law enforcement to run a person’s name and see if they have any incidents listed.  

“Do your homework and have a threat assessment process,” he said.  

There is a wide variety of training available, covering difficult terminations, untreated mental health issues, domestic violence and more, but first, a company must take the steps to create a violence prevention program.   

“The key is we're not judgmental here,” he said. “We want to make you safe, you're a valued employee, and we want to make your colleagues safe.” 

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