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Search Engine Risks

It’s no secret that your company depends on the capabilities of your computer systems to function. You should be aware that simple actions your employees take could be putting your company’s equipment and networks at risk of cyber crime, including cyber attacks, cyber theft and other computer security incidents. The average cost of a single cyber attack is incalculable—cyber attacks can directly target finances and ruin a business’ reputation. Your business is at stake, and you should do everything you can to protect yourself.

The Risks of Web Searches
As an employer, you should educate your employees about searching for certain topics on the internet due to the risk of coming across websites encrypted with viruses or malware that could be detrimental to your computer systems. Stress that the potential for cybercrime could affect employees individually as well as the business as a whole. More than 90 percent of companies surveyed by the DOJ incurred either monetary loss, system downtime loss or both because of cybercrime, so take it upon yourself to put search engine guidelines in place.

The Web’s Most Dangerous Search Terms
Common term searches conducted online one can expose your business to the risk of cyber crime. Encourage employees to avoid following suspicious results in search engines. Any result that promises free products or materials is suspect. The least risky search terms are usually health-related topics and searches about economic news.

It is essential to remember that the number of dangerous search terms is ever-changing. Hackers want to impact the highest amount of people with the least amount of effort, so they aim for popular search terms most. Ill-intentioned hackers also adapt quickly to the fast-paced nature of the internet and the public circle, so oftentimes social or celebrity events popular at a given moment climb quickly to the top of the internet’s most dangerous search terms and are a high risk for infecting your company’s computers.

According to the DOJ, industries considered a part of critical infrastructure businesses account for a disproportionate amount of computer security incidents. If your company is in any of these industries, be especially careful about internet searches to ensure computer safety and protect against potentially devastating loss, both monetary and in down time:
• Agriculture
• Chemical and drug manufacturing
• Computer system design
• Finance
• Health care
• Internet service providers
• Petroleum mining and manufacturing
• Publications/broadcasting
• Real estate
• Telecommunications
• Transportation and pipelines
• Utilities

Take Precautions to Protect Your Business
There are examples of companies and organizations around the globe that had to shut down operations to address a large-scale virus or other malware issue. These problems can affect both large and small businesses and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. Avoid putting yourself at risk by doing the following:
• Enact a stricter internet use policy
• Put more strict website blockers or filters in place
• Educate employees about the hazards that risky search engine exploration can present

Some of these solutions may cost you in the short run, but lowering your risk will ultimately save your company in potential identity fraud, monetary cyber theft or informational cyber theft in the future.

Filed under: Cyber Liability — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 10:13 pm March 21, 2018


The Aging Workforce – Advantages and Challenges

There are many potential implications associated with the aging workforce that employers are faced with today. Many organizations are beginning to understand that their longer-term business strategies have the potential to be compromised if the population of baby boomers currently in the workforce happens to retire at around the same time.

Many believe that older workers are more expensive and less productive than younger groups, but this conventional wisdom may leave you out of an opportunity to maximize talent base.

Aging Workforce Implications
Many employers are wary about hiring or even maintaining a primarily aging workforce at their organization despite many possible benefits. Because of the concerns surrounding this talent-management issue, employers must consider the full range of economic implications of an aging workforce, including both cost and productivity factors. The key to turning this issue into a business opportunity starts with a better understanding of its advantages and challenges.

• Older workers are somewhat less likely to be disengaged and slightly more likely to be moderately or highly engaged at work than younger groups, according to a recent Towers Perrin Talent Report.

• Because disengaged workers are more likely to leave their employers, it presents a retention risk for employers. This could mean a higher cost to the organization due to the high expense of employee turnover.

• Turnover costs can be as much as 50 percent of an annual salary for many positions, so the benefits of maintaining a stable workforce and avoiding turnover often exceeds the increased compensation and benefits costs of aging workers. Because of this, the cost to hire and maintain older workers can be quite reasonable.

• Hiring or retaining additional older workers may not cost much more than younger workers simply because these workers could offer enhanced skills such as experience, maturity and engagement.

• Even though cognitive declines can occur with age, knowledge and experience in a field can offset this. Communication and decision-making skills acquired with experience at an organization can often make up for decline in manual dexterity.

• Obviously, average pay tends to increase with service and age, but this can also result from movement up the career ladder in an organization. So, older employees are not necessarily more expensive in terms of pay.

• Although health care claims costs do tend to increase with age, and are on average higher for workers nearing retirement age, costs can also vary due to many underlying factors. A study conducted by the University of Michigan Health Management Center found that age may be less of an influence in increased health care costs than factors such as individual health risk and proper health care utilization.

Filed under: HR,Property & Casualty — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 10:03 pm


Are You Prepared? House Fires

Each year more than 3,275 people die and 15,575 are injured in home fires in the United States. To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basics about house fires. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.

Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a 3 to 1 ratio.

Learn About Fires
Every day, Americans experience the horror of fire but most people don’t understand it.

1. Fire is FAST
In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to be engulfed in flames. Most deadly fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you won’t have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time to escape.

2. Fire is HOT
Heat is more dangerous than flames. A fire’s heat alone can kill. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In five minutes, a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once; this is called flashover.

3. Fire is DARK
Fire isn’t bright—it’s pitch black. Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you’ve lived in for years.

4. Fire is DEADLY
Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape.
Only when you know the true nature of fire can you prepare your families and yourselves.

Before a Fire
Fire Escape Plan
In the event of a fire, remember that every second counts, so you and your family must always be prepared. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly.

Twice each year, practice your home fire escape plan. These tips can help you prepare your plan:

• Find two ways to get out of each room.

If the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need a second way out. A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows.

Only purchase collapsible ladders evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory.

• Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and security bars can be opened.

• Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.

• Windows and doors with security bars must have quick release devices to allow them to be opened immediately in an emergency. Make sure everyone in the family understands and practices how to properly operate and open locked or barred doors and windows.

• Teach children not to hide from firefighters.

Escaping the Fire
• Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Make sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.

• Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than one level.

• Teach family members to stay low to the floor (where the air is safer in a fire) when escaping from a fire.

• Clean out storage areas. Do not let trash such as old newspapers and magazines accumulate.

Fire Escape Planning for Older Adults and People with Access or Functional Needs
• Live near an exit. You’ll be safest on the ground floor if you live in an apartment building. If you live in a multi-story home, arrange to sleep on the ground floor, and near an exit.

• If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to make sure you can get through the doorways.

• Make any necessary accommodations, such as providing exit ramps and widening doorways, to facilitate an emergency escape.

• Speak to your family members, building manager or neighbors about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.

• Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your special needs. Ask emergency providers to keep your special needs information on file.

• Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 911 if a fire occurs.

Smoke Alarms
A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.

• Install both ionization AND photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors.

• Test batteries monthly.

• Replace batteries in battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms at least once a year (except non-replaceable 10-year lithium batteries)

• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing smoke alarms both inside and outside of sleeping areas.

• Always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions when installing smoke alarms.

• Replace the entire smoke alarm unit every eight to 10 years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.

• Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking—it can be a deadly mistake. Open a window or door and press the “hush” button, wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air or move the entire alarm several feet away from the location.

More Fire Safety Tips
• Sleep with your door closed.

• Only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers should consider using them when appropriate. Contact your local fire department for information on training in your area and what kind to buy for your home.

• Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.

• Ask your local fire department to inspect your residence for fire safety and prevention.

During a Fire
• Crawl low under any smoke to your exit—heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.

• When the smoke alarm sounds, get out fast. You may have only seconds to escape safely.

• If there is smoke blocking your door or first way out, use your second way out.

• Smoke is toxic. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your way out.

• Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, leave the door closed and use your second way out.

• If there is smoke coming around the door, leave the door closed and use your second way out.

• If you open a door, open it slowly. Be ready to shut it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.

• If you can’t get to someone who needs assistance, leave the home and call 911, or tell firefighters if they are already at the scene. Tell the 911 dispatcher or the firefighters where the person is located.

• If pets are trapped inside your home, tell firefighters right away.

• If you can’t get out, close the door and cover vents and cracks around doors with cloth or tape to keep smoke out. Call 911. Say where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.

• If your clothes catch fire, stop moving immediately, drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands, and roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. If you or someone else cannot stop, drop and roll, smother the flames with a blanket or towel. Use cool water to treat the burn immediately. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Get medical help right away.

After a Fire
Recovering from a fire can be a physically and mentally draining process. When fire strikes, lives are suddenly turned around. Often, the hardest part is knowing where to begin and who to contact. The following checklist serves as a quick reference guide for you to follow after a fire strikes.

• Contact a local disaster relief service, such as The Red Cross, if you need temporary housing, food and medicines.

• If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting the property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies. If you are not insured, try contacting private organizations for aid and assistance.

• Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Be watchful of any structural damage caused by the fire.

• The fire department should make sure utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself.

• Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items. Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made.

• Try to locate valuable documents and records. Refer to information on contacts and the replacement process inside this brochure.

• If you leave your home, contact the local police department to let them know the site will be unoccupied.

• Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on income tax.

• Notify your mortgage company of the fire.

• Check with an accountant or the Internal Revenue Service about special benefits for people recovering from fire loss.

In addition to insuring your home, Warren G. Bender Co. is committed to helping you and your loved ones stay safe when disaster strikes. If you would like more information on developing a family emergency plan or building a disaster supply kit, please contact us at (916) 380-5300 or http://wgbender.com today.

Filed under: Personal Insurance,Safety — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 9:50 pm


Compensable Time: What You Need to Know

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay their employees for all hours they are “suffered or permitted to work.” These hours are known as “work hours” or compensable time.

What is compensable time?
Compensable time includes all hours during which an individual is actually performing productive work and all hours an employee is required by his or her employer to remain available for the next assignment. Compensable time does not include periods where an individual is relieved of all obligations and is free to pursue his or her own interests.

How is compensable time calculated?
To determine how much of an employee’s time is compensable time, employers must determine whether the employee is on duty, and how rest periods or certain industry extended hours affect an employee’s hours of work. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division enforces work hour standards.

What are the penalties for noncompliance?
FLSA violations are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to six months or both. In addition, these violations are subject to civil liability in state or federal courts and employers may be required to compensate employees for unpaid wages, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, court costs and any other amount a court sees fit to impose. Fee amounts may increase for repeat and willful offenders.

Employers may not discharge or discriminate in any manner against an employee who files a complaint or cooperates with the DOL in an investigation or proceeding.

Questions?
Contact Warren G. Bender Co. for more information on wage payment and work hour laws.

Filed under: HR — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 9:33 pm


Guide to Preventing Workplace Violence: Planning and Strategic Issues

Introduction
As with most other risks, prevention of workplace violence begins with planning. Also, as with other risks, it is easier to persuade managers to focus on the problem after a violent act has taken place than it is to get them to act before anything has happened. If the decision to plan in advance is more difficult to make, however, it is also more logical.

Any organization, large or small, will be far better able to spot potential dangers and defuse them before violence develops and will be able to manage a crisis better if one does occur, if its executives have considered the issue beforehand and have prepared policies, practices and structures to deal with it.

Planning Principles & Components
In forming an effective workplace violence strategy, important principles include:

• There must be support from the top. If a company’s senior executives are not truly committed to a preventive program, it is unlikely to be effectively implemented.
• There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Effective plans may share a number of features, but a good plan must be tailored to the needs, resources and circumstances of a particular employer and a particular work force.
• A plan should be proactive, not reactive.
• A plan should take into account the workplace culture: work atmosphere, relationships, traditional management styles, etc. If there are elements in that culture that appear to foster a toxic climate—tolerance of bullying or intimidation; lack of trust among workers, between workers and management; high levels of stress, frustration, and anger; poor communication; inconsistent discipline; and erratic enforcement of company policies—these should be called to the attention of top executives for remedial action.
• Planning for and responding to workplace violence calls for expertise from a number of perspectives. A workplace violence prevention plan will be most effective if it is based on a multidisciplinary team approach.
• Managers should take an active role in communicating the workplace violence policy to employees. They must be alert to warning signs, the violence prevention plan and response, and must seek advice and assistance when there are indications of a problem.
• Practice your plan! No matter how thorough or well-conceived, preparation won’t do any good if an emergency happens and no one remembers or carries out what was planned. Training exercises must include senior executives who will be making decisions in a real incident. Exercises must be followed by careful, clear-eyed evaluation and changes to fix whatever weaknesses have been revealed.
• Reevaluate, rethink and revise. Policies and practices should not be set in concrete. Personnel work environments, business conditions and society all change and evolve. A prevention program must change and evolve with them.

The components of a workplace violence prevention program can include:

• A statement of the employer’s no threats and violence policy and complementary policies such as those regulating harassment and drug and alcohol use.
• A physical security survey and assessment of premises.
• Procedures for addressing threats and threatening behavior.
• Designation and training of an incident response team.
• Access to outside resources, such as threat assessment professionals.
• Training of different management and employee groups.
• Crisis response measures.
• Consistent enforcement of behavioral standards, including effective disciplinary procedures.

Written Workplace Violence Policy Statement
Here an employer sets the standard for acceptable workplace behavior. The statement should affirm the company’s commitment to a safe workplace, employees’ obligation to behave appropriately on the job, and the employer’s commitment to take action on any employee’s complaint regarding harassing, threatening and violent behavior. The statement should be in writing and distributed to employees at all levels.

In defining acts that will not be tolerated, the statement should make clear that not just physical violence but threats, bullying, harassment and weapons possession are against company policy and are prohibited.

Preventive Practices
Preventive measures can include pre-employment screening, identifying problem situations and risk factors, and security preparations:

• Pre-employment Screening. Identifying and screening out potentially violent people before hiring is an obvious means of preventing workplace violence. Pre-employment screening practices must, however, be consistent with privacy protections and antidiscrimination laws.

A thorough background check can be expensive and time-consuming. The depth of pre-employment scrutiny will vary according to the level and sensitivity of the job being filled, the policies and resources of the prospective employer, and possibly differing legal requirements in different states. However, as an applicant is examined, the following can raise red flags:

• A history of drug or alcohol abuse
• Past conflicts (especially if violence was involved) with co-workers
• Past convictions for violent crimes

Other red flags can include a defensive, hostile attitude; a history of frequent job changes; and a tendency to blame others for problems.

Identifying Problem Situations and Risk Factors of Current Employees
Problem situations—circumstances that may heighten the risk of violence—can involve a particular event or employee, or the workplace as a whole.

No “profile” or litmus test exists to indicate whether an employee might become violent. Instead, it is important for employers and employees alike to remain alert to problematic behavior that, in combination, could point to possible violence. No one behavior in and of itself suggests a greater potential for violence, but all must be looked at in totality.

Risk factors at times associated with potential violence include personality conflicts (between co-workers or between worker and supervisor); a mishandled termination or other disciplinary action; bringing weapons onto a work site; drug or alcohol use on the job; or a grudge over a real or imagined grievance. Risks can also stem from an employee’s personal circumstances—breakup of a marriage or romantic relationship; other family conflicts; financial or legal problems; or emotional disturbance.

Other problematic behavior also can include, but is not limited to:
• Increasing belligerence
• Ominous, specific threats
• Hypersensitivity to criticism
• Recent acquisition/fascination with weapons
• Apparent obsession with a supervisor or co-worker or employee grievance.
• Preoccupation with violent themes
• Interest in recently publicized violent events
• Outbursts of anger
• Extreme disorganization
• Noticeable changes in behavior
• Homicidal/suicidal comments or threats

Though a suicide threat may not be heard as threatening to others, it is nonetheless a serious danger sign. Some extreme violent acts are in fact suicidal—wounding or killing someone else in the expectation of being killed, a phenomenon known in law enforcement as “suicide by cop.” In addition, many workplace shootings often end in suicide by the offender.

While no definitive studies currently exist regarding workplace environmental factors that can contribute to violence, it is generally understood that the following factors can contribute to negativity and stress in the workplace, which in turn may precipitate problematic behavior. Such factors include:

• Understaffing that leads to job overload or compulsory overtime
• Frustrations arising from poorly defined job tasks and responsibilities
• Downsizing or reorganization
• Labor disputes and poor labor-management relations
• Poor management styles (for example, arbitrary or unexplained orders; over-monitoring; corrections or reprimands in front of other employees, inconsistent discipline)
• Inadequate security or a poorly trained, poorly motivated security force
• A lack of employee counseling
• A high injury rate or frequent grievances may be clues to problem situations in a workplace

Security Survey and Measures
One important tool can be a questionnaire or survey for employees to get their ideas on the occurrence and potential for violent incidents and to identify or confirm the need for improved security measures. Surveys can be repeated at regular intervals, or when operations change or an incident of workplace violence has occurred, to help identify new or previously unnoticed risk factors. Responses can help identify jobs, locations, or work situations where the risk of violence appears highest.

As well as being trained in how to respond to violent incidents, security personnel should be trained in techniques for handling threats or other confrontations without letting them escalate into violence. Security supervisors should have an up-to-date contact list for all employees, in case there is a need to advise workers of an emergency or distribute other information. There should also be a list of outside emergency contacts: police, rescue, medical, social service, violence assessment and employee assistance professionals, etc. The security director should maintain regular liaison with local law enforcement agencies, familiarizing them with the company’s location and with evacuation and other emergency plans.

The floor plan and physical layout of a workplace should be reviewed and, if necessary, modified to improve employees’ safety. Aspects to consider include:
• Visibility
• Alarm signals or emergency phones
• Control of access
• Arrangement of work space so employees cannot be trapped in a small enclosure
• Adequate and clearly marked escape routes

A plan for emergency evacuation should be designed and practiced. The evacuation plan should include not only procedures for getting workers out of a building, office, or plant, but some method for those evacuated to assemble or report in so that it can be determined who is safe and who may still be missing. Evacuation plans should include provisions for workers with disabilities—for example, a way to make sure warnings are received by employees who may be hearing-impaired and a system for safely evacuating anyone who uses a wheelchair.

Addressing Threats and Threatening Behavior
Many times, a violent act is preceded by a threat. The threat may have been explicit or veiled, spoken or unspoken, specific or vague, but it occurred. In other instances, behavior may be observed by others, which might suggest the potential for some type of violent act to occur. Yet in other cases, it may be the off-handed remark or comments made to people close to the individual, which may suggest problematic behavior.

Dealing with threats and/or threatening behavior—detecting them, evaluating them, and finding a way to address them—may be the single most important key to preventing violence.

Any workplace violence strategy must include measures to detect, assess and manage threats and behavior. Saying that is easier than doing it. Normally there is no doubt that a homicide or assault has been committed; often it is harder to establish that a threat has been made. In addition, the effects of a threat are subjective and subtle; usually there is no physical evidence. Some threats are not criminal and, therefore, not subject to law enforcement intervention and prosecution.

Despite these difficulties, threat response is an essential component of any workplace violence plan. The first need, obviously, is to define the term.

What Constitutes a Threat?
Webster’s Dictionary defines a threat as “a statement or expression of intention to hurt, destroy, punish, etc., as in retaliation or intimidation.” That’s clear enough, as far as it goes, but it leaves open a question that legal authorities or employers have to answer in framing and carrying out a policy on threats: who determines when an intention to hurt has been expressed?

A purely subjective determination—whatever makes someone feel threatened is a threat—is an uncertain guide for behavior, since different people can respond differently to the same words or acts. Employees who are required to observe “no” threat rules have a right to a reasonably clear statement of what will be considered threatening behavior. That does not mean that subjective factors can or should be completely excluded from the definition, however. Employees can and should be held responsible for a reasonable regard for the feelings and concerns of co-workers and others in the workplace, and employers properly have an obligation to make sure employees do not feel frightened or intimidated.

For these reasons, a workplace violence prevention program addressing threats needs to include both a subjective and objective component. It must set reasonably explicit standards of behavior so employees know how they are expected to act or not act; it must also make clear to employees that no one has a right to make anyone else feel threatened.

The definition of a threat for workplace conduct standards need not be the same as the definition of a threat as a criminal offense.

A sample definition could be “an inappropriate behavior, verbal or nonverbal communication or expression that would lead to the reasonable belief that an act has occurred or may occur which may lead to physical and/or psychological harm to the threatener, to others, or to property.” Alternative: “Any verbal or physical conduct that threatens property or personal safety or that reasonably could be interpreted as intent to cause harm.”

Identifying and Reporting Threats and Threatening Behavior
The best plans for threat assessment and response will be useless if employers or those assigned to respond to workplace violence don’t know that a threat has been made. Detecting threats depends in large measure on the workplace culture. If employees are too afraid or too alienated from management to report violent or threatening behavior by co-workers, no violence prevention program will be effective .To encourage reporting, employers can create a climate in which safety is accepted as a common goal for workers and management and all employees—including management, feel free to report disturbing incidents or possible danger signs.

Along with encouraging employees to report violence or threats, employers also have to inform them where to report and what to report. A designated office or person to whom complaints are directed, and perhaps a hotline number or suggestion box for employees who prefer to remain anonymous, can provide a concrete and clear venue for reporting.

To the extent that employees feel comfortable in reporting incidents to their immediate supervisors, the information may come through the normal management channels. However, having additional reporting channels can facilitate reporting where an employee finds it difficult to report through a supervisor. Whatever reporting system is adopted, publicizing it on bulletin boards, employee newsletters, and notices distributed with paychecks, or other means, will help ensure that all workers know how to report any behavior they consider troubling.

Just as important as knowing how to report incidents is knowing that reports will be heard and responded to. A feedback procedure through which employees will be notified —subject to confidentiality rules—of how their reports were investigated and what actions were taken will provide assurance and helpful “closure” to employees who make a report.

To further facilitate the identification of threats, employees, supervisors, and managers can receive training to help them detect out-of-bounds behavior or other warning signs. Training can also help educate workers and supervisors on how to respond to someone who seems troubled or potentially dangerous and how to report that behavior to managers. Training can also include a very clear statement to all employees on what to do if they see or become aware of a weapon (in almost all circumstances, leave the location and call for help). Any training program should be sensitive to cultural assumptions and stereotypes and emphasize focusing on an individual’s manner, conduct, and behavior rather than ethnic or other group identity or a “profile” of a dangerous person.

Threat Assessment
Threat assessment has two parts: an evaluation of the threat itself; that is, the assessment of the credibility and overall viability of an expression of an intent to do harm, and an evaluation of the threatener. Together, these evaluations can help lead to an informed judgment on whether someone who has made a threat is likely to carry it out—a determination that has been described as “differentiating when someone is making a threat versus posing a threat. ”The assessment can also help the employer decide what will be an appropriate intervention.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT IN THE GREAT MAJORITY OF CASES, A
THREAT WILL NOT LEAD TO A VIOLENT ACT. THE THREAT ITSELF, HOWEVER, DAMAGES WORKPLACE SAFETY AND MUST BE RESPONDED TO.

A good threat assessment will thoroughly analyze:
• The exact nature and context of the threat and/or threatening behavior
• The identified target (general or specific)
• The threatener’s apparent motivation
• The threatener’s ability to carry out the threat
• The threatener’s background, including work history, criminal record, mental health history, military history, and past behavior on the job

Clearly, there are characteristic signs to look for in evaluating a threat and a threatener, but an assessment must not turn into a mechanical process of checking off items on a list to see if someone fits a predetermined “profile.” Every case should be examined and evaluated on the basis of its particular nature and circumstances.

Every employer and organization will have to develop their own structure and procedures for threat assessment and response, depending in large part on the resources available. Large companies may find the necessary expertise in their own security, medical, human resources, legal, and employee assistance departments. Smaller organizations may have to seek outside help from law enforcement, mental health and social service agencies, and other professionals. Such contacts should be established beforehand and an up-to-date contact list maintained so company officials know whom to call when assistance is needed.

It should be noted that, typically, threat assessments will be conducted by a psychologist or psychiatrist specifically trained to evaluate a potential risk of violence. Both legal concerns and practical limitations often will render it inadvisable to seek threat assessment evaluation from an employee assistance program, security or mental health professionals who lack training in this area.

Threat Management
The goal of threat assessment is to place a threat somewhere on a hierarchy of dangerousness and, on that basis, determine an appropriate intervention. If a threat is immediate, specific and critical, the obvious response is to call the police right away.

A threat that is veiled or less specific and does not appear to presage immediate violence may call for less urgent measures: referral for psychological evaluation and counseling, for example. Many threats will turn out to be harmless blowing off steam and require nothing more than a formal admonition to the employee that his or her language or conduct was not appropriate and violated company policy.

A recurring problem in threat management is what to do when someone is evaluated as dangerous, but has not committed any serious crime. In those cases, managers will need legal and, often law enforcement advice. Workplace violence plans should advise managers where they can get guidance, on an emergency basis, if necessary.

Managers should understand that a threat assessment in some cases should be completed before disciplinary action is taken. Executives or senior supervisors may sometimes want to terminate an employee on the spot after a threat or other incident—in effect, kicking the problem out the door. Termination may indeed be appropriate, but doing so in the heat of the moment without any time for evaluation or preparation may be exactly the wrong thing to do, removing the potentially dangerous person from observation and possibly bringing on a violent act instead of preventing one.

Threat Assessment and Incident Response Teams
An employer’s workplace violence prevention program should designate the personnel who will be specifically responsible for overseeing the organization’s antiviolence policy, including threat assessment and crisis management. Teams should have the authority, training, and support needed to meet their responsibilities.

The threat assessment and incident response teams will be responsible for responding to ALL reports of violence, threats, harassment, or other events or conduct that may frighten any employee.

Often, team members will receive special training in risk evaluation, threat assessment, conflict resolution and procedures to monitor, document, and develop a response to all cases brought to their attention. They also need to be aware of, and have contingency plans for, issues such as dealing with the news media in the event of a major incident and helping meet employees’ needs in the aftermath of a violent death or other traumatic workplace event.
It should be explained that, often, these teams will not conduct threat assessments themselves, but instead will seek the assistance of outside threat assessment professionals to perform the function with the team’s collaboration.

Teams often will benefit from consulting with law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, emergency response personnel, and other outside specialists or agencies that could become involved in a crisis. To be fully effective, these relationships should be established and maintained before an emergency occurs.

The composition of assessment and response teams will reflect a multidisciplinary approach. Teams often include representatives from security, human resources, medical and employee assistance in organizations large enough to have those departments.

Other possible members are union representatives, where employees are covered by a union contract. While team members may belong to different departments, as a team, they should report to one senior manager, so that lines of communication and authority are clear and there will not be conflict or confusion in the midst of an emergency.

The team’s composition, tasks and powers should be clearly defined.
Employers may want to hire outside experts to train and advise the assessment and incident response teams. Those teams, in turn, can conduct violence prevention and emergency response training for employees, supervisors and executives.

Teams should keep good written records of all incidents and interventions, monitor results, and evaluate the actions that were taken.

Training
Training in workplace violence prevention will vary according to different employee groups. Training should be provided to new/current employees, supervisors, and managers, be conducted on a regular basis, and cover a variety of topics, including:

• The workplace violence prevention policy, including reporting requirements
• Risk factors and that can cause or contribute to threats and violence
• Early recognition of warning signs of problematic behavior
• Where appropriate, ways of preventing or defusing volatile situations or aggressive behavior
• Information on cultural diversity to develop sensitivity to racial and ethnic issues and differences
• A standard response action plan for violent situations, including availability of assistance, response to alarm systems, and communication procedures
• The location and operation of safety devices such as alarm systems, along with the required maintenance schedules and procedures
• Ways to protect oneself and co-workers, including use of a “buddy system.”
• Policies and procedures for reporting and recordkeeping
• Policies and procedures for obtaining medical care, counseling, workers’ compensation or legal assistance after a violent episode or injury

Evaluation
An evaluation program should involve the following:

• Establishing a uniform reporting system for incidents of harassment, bullying, threats and other inappropriate behavior and regular review of reports
• Measuring the frequency and severity of workplace violence in order to determine if prevention programs are having an effect
• Analyzing trends and rates in violence-related injuries, lost work time, etc.
• Surveying employees before and after making job or work site changes or installing security measures or new systems to determine their effectiveness
• Keeping abreast of new strategies for dealing with workplace violence as they develop

Any changes in the program should be discussed at regular meetings of the safety committee, union representatives or other employee groups.

Disciplinary Philosophy and Procedures
Disciplining an employee for abusive, threatening or violent behavior serves two purposes. For the abusive or violent employee, the disciplinary action should serve as an appropriate penalty for past conduct and a deterrent against future offenses. For the rest of the work force, it should serve to reaffirm the employer’s commitment to a workplace free from threats and violence and reinforce employees’ confidence that their safety is protected by strong but fair measures.

To achieve those goals, penalties and the disciplinary process must be—and must be seen to be—proportionate, consistent, reasonable and fair. Erratic or arbitrary discipline, favoritism, and a lack of respect for employees’ dignity and rights are likely to undermine, not support, an employer’s violence prevention efforts. Workers who perceive an employer’s practices as unfair or unreasonable will nurse grievances; and not report them with the expectation of a fair hearing and settlement. Grudges at unfair treatment will fester and may even erupt into further troublesome behavior.

Fairness in discipline begins with fairly and clearly spelling out what the rules are. Policies on workplace conduct should be written to clearly state the employer’s standards and expectations. Penalties should be proportionate to the offense.
If there is a complaint or incident, the incident response team will conduct or ensure a thorough investigation of the facts and based on the results, will consider and determine appropriate disciplinary measures.

The Zero Tolerance Question
When it began appearing in the language three decades ago, the phrase “zero tolerance” customarily referred to a standard, rather than a penalty. Zero tolerance on drugs meant that the standard of conduct would be no drug use. Zero tolerance on harmful substances in food or water supplies meant that no amount of a particular toxic chemical or infectious agent would be considered safe.

Over the last decade, zero tolerance has taken on a different meaning: the application of an automatic penalty for a designated offense. In that sense the policy has at times been criticized for overriding judgment and common sense, as when school administrators acting under a zero tolerance drug or weapons policy expel a student for bringing a nail file to school or having a cold pill or a couple of aspirin tablets in a lunch box.

With regard to workplace violence, employers should make clear that zero tolerance in the original sense of the phrase applies—that is, no threatening or violent behavior is acceptable and no violent incident will be ignored. Company violence prevention policies should require action on all reports of violence, without exception. That does not mean, however, that a rigid, one-size-fits-all policy of automatic penalties is appropriate, effective or desirable. It may even be counterproductive, since employees may be more reluctant to report a fellow worker if he is subject to automatic termination regardless of the circumstances or seriousness of his offense.

Whether to use the phrase “zero tolerance” in its written workplace violence policy or find a different expression is a decision each employer will have to make. Whatever phrase is used, it should be made clear that the intent is to set a standard of conduct, not a system of penalties. Instead of warning of “automatic termination,” discipline policies should declare that violent workplace behavior will lead to penalties “up to and including termination. That leaves room for managers to consider circumstances and exercise judgment on each case. It also properly puts the responsibility on management to ensure that penalties are not imposed arbitrarily, but are consistent, proportionate and fair.

Warren G. Bender Co. can assist you in developing a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Keys to consider in doing so are a strong commitment by upper management, identification of a response team, development of clear and concise procedures and methods of intervention, and monitoring and tracking of incidents and your results.

Source: FBI

Filed under: Safety — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 9:14 pm March 16, 2018