April 6, 2016

By Gordon E. Bosserman
I recently attended a seminar at which one session was devoted to workplace violence. This was timely, of course, because it came closely on the heels of the shootings in San Bernardino and only a year or so after the shootings at the Seal Beach hair salon. In California, an employer is required to provide a safe place to work. The employer must also, however, be careful not to reveal information about an employee or former employee that might be construed as defamatory, like warning a prospective employer that an employee was let go because he/she engaged in violent or threatening behavior. I have personally advised employer clients that the most they should say when contacted by a prospective employer is that the former employee worked there and his/her job title.
Here are some suggestions as to what an employer might do to fulfill its obligations to its employees and still reduce the potential for workplace violence:

  • Regarding references, ask the prospective employer to obtain written permission from the former employee for you to discuss his/her employment and keep a copy of the written permission in the former employee’s file.
  • With respect to workplace conduct, the best solution is to defuse a potentially violent situation before it develops. To do that, you should:

Have a written, zero-tolerance policy for bullying and threatening conduct.
Enforce the policy consistently.
Develop avenues for employees to use to resolve workplace differences without threats or violence.
Be vigilant for potentially violent situations and take steps to resolve them before bigger problems develop.

  • With respect to actual workplace violence, such as an “active shooter”:

Develop a plan for response, such as “Run, Hide or Fight” — run if you can; if you can’t, hide and lock or barricade the door, if possible; and if all else fails, be prepared to fight the shooter.
Educate employees as to what to do in this kind of situation, such as holding meetings to discuss what to do and contacting local police to obtain suggestions and possible speakers.

Here is the website for Embassy Consulting, experts in this area: www.embassyconsultingservices.com.