The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace.” A workplace can be a location, either permanent or temporary, where an employee performs any work-related duty. This includes, but is not limited to, the buildings and surrounding perimeters, including parking lots, field locations, clients’ homes and travel to and from work assignments.
The most common acts of workplace violence are simple assaults, totaling 1.5 million incidents a year. These range from simple pushing to much more serious acts of violence. Robberies account for 84,000 workplace violence incidents per year. Homicide is currently the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. Of the 4,679 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in 2014, 403 were workplace homicides. Retail industry employees are particularly susceptible to violent crime, as businesses are often open late, lightly staffed, are sometimes in high crime rate areas and usually have cash on hand. But not all workplace violence stems from external assaults by strangers.
More and more, domestic violence situations are bleeding into the workplace. Even if a potential victim is “on the run” or hiding, they usually have to go to work at some point. Thus, a potential predator knows where to find them. Women are much more likely than men to be victims of on-the-job intimate partner violence or homicide. Spouses, boyfriends/ girlfriends and exes were responsible for the on-the-job deaths of 321 women and 38 men between 1997-2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Nearly 33% of women killed in U.S. workplaces between 2003-2008 were killed by a current or former intimate partner. Another frightening statistic shows that 70% of workplaces in the U.S. do not have a formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence.
But, it’s statistically rare, right? Odds of it affecting your company are small, right? Wrong on both counts! Below is just one example from my 10 years of overseeing retail loss prevention at Nike. There were many others.
A Nike Factory Store in Las Vegas had a strong workplace violence policy and management trained in basic reaction procedures. A female sales associate confides in store manager that she is afraid of her boyfriend and that he has threatened to show up in the store. The store manager did not notify loss prevention or employee relations, as she was trained to do. Instead she took it upon herself to rely on the basic training she knew. The store manager offered the employee time off. The employee said she had to work so the manager allowed the associate to work in the back of house instead of on the sales floor. The manager also got a picture of the boyfriend and briefed her management staff on the issue.
Sure enough, a couple of days later the boyfriend shows up in the store looking for his girlfriend. Instead of calling police as her training required, the store manager simply warned the associate, who was in the back. For some unknown reason, the associate made the decision not only to come out and meet with the boyfriend but she agreed to leave the store with him. The manager, although knowing it was a bad situation, did nothing to stop it or notify authorities. Five blocks from the store, the boyfriend pushed the associate out of his car, got out himself and shot her five times on the sidewalk.
Miraculously, the associate survived although she will never be the same. Yes, the boyfriend was caught and convicted. However, had the manager counseled with loss prevention in the beginning and called police immediately after seeing the boyfriend, as she was trained to do, this tragic incident might have been prevented.
Not all workplace violence situations are this serious or dramatic, but incidents sparked by domestic disputes happen every day and are on the rise. As noted above, 70% of U.S. workplaces do not have a formal workplace violence policy in spite of the fact that OSHA’s General Duty clause states “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm”. Obviously this rule is aimed at general safety but it also covers the prevention and control of the hazard of workplace violence.
This article is not designed to be a comprehensive training guide on workplace violence. But it is designed to point out the ever-increasing role of domestic disputes as a cause. It is also designed to point out that all employers have a duty under OSHA guidelines and that up to 70% of companies have nothing in place.
What can retail loss prevention professionals do? Basically, three things:
• Learn all you can about workplace violence, its causes, preventative measures and response protocols.
• Know your company’s workplace violence policies and program by heart, if there is one.
• If your company is lacking in this area, lobby loss prevention, human resources, employee relations and senior management to develop a program and train all employees.
Start now and good luck.