Posted by Melissa Fleischer, Esq. on Feb 2nd 2014

In the past month, we have seen multiple incidents of violence in the workplace including many at malls, schools and colleges. It is a problem that employers in this country can no longer avoid for it seems to be everywhere. Therefore, employers would be wise to ensure that they are prepared.

What steps should employers take to be prepared? First and foremost, employers must have a workplace violence policy that sets forth to whom employees should report when they have experienced or witnessed violence in their workplaces. However, employers cannot stop there. They also must provide training to their managers and employees on preventing workplace violence. This workplace violence training should include steps to prevent violence in the workplace as well as how to respond to active shooter scenarios. The training should be provided on an annual basis.

In a recent workplace violence incident that occurred on January 26, 2014 in Columbia, Maryland, a man, Darion Aguilar, armed with a shotgun and explosives entered a busy suburban mall. Once inside, he walked into the Zumiez skateboard store that he had frequented on prior occasions and gunned down two employees who were working in the store at the time of the shooting. At this point, little seems to be known about how long he was in the store prior to shooting the employees or what he was doing prior to shooting the employees. Had the employees been trained to observe each customer who walked into the store to determine whether they believed there was any threat, they might have been able to have taken action. Perhaps, store owners and mall operators need to increase security at malls and employ trained security personnel whose sole job it will be to be on the lookout for possible active shooters entering the premises. In addition, workplace violence training might have helped these two employees know exactly what to do and how to respond when the shooter pointed the gun at them.

It is unclear whether such actions would have helped in this most recent case. When the attack comes from a disgruntled employee themselves, it is helpful for employees and managers to have been trained in understanding and knowing what to do when they observe someone with the warning signs of workplace violence. In looking back over many workplace violence incidents, experts always find warning signs that people should have paid more attention to. Being trained to recognize warning signs of impending violence and how to respond to active shooter scenarios is an important way that employers can prepare and help to avoid violence in their workplaces.

What is all too clear from a review of violence in recent months is that violence at malls, schools, colleges and many other workplaces is on the rise and seems to be the way of the future. Clearly, more needs to be done from a mental health point of view and employers would be best protected if they established Employee Assistance Programs where employees could go to confidentially discuss mental health issues including depression and stress. Employers should also create well-drafted workplace violence policies and provide training to managers and employees on preventing violence in the workplace and responding properly to active shooter scenarios. It is time for employers to take action to protect their workplaces and their employees from further acts of violence and to help protect their organizations from liability for such incidents.