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Mass shootings have been increasingly in the headlines in recent years, and many of these incidents have occurred in the workplace. Regardless of anyone’s politics, employers are having to face either the fear of, or the actual experience of, murder in their own offices, factories and schools. What steps should an employer take to keep their employees safe and help to ease the impact on their employees? Overall, remember to communicate with your employees — both that you are taking steps to protect their safety and that you care.

Before Something Happens

You should have a policy against violence in the workplace and make sure employees know how to report concerns. For example, if an employee is being stalked by an ex-spouse or partner, you want them to tell you about it. You can contact the local police for advice or assistance. You can also connect your employee to resources that could help the situation. You can better protect your workplace if employees know how to report concerns and are willing to report them.  

Prohibit weapons in your workplace. State laws vary on this issue. Some states allow you to prohibit any firearms on your property, regardless of other gun rights legislation. Some states allow employees to possess guns in a locked trunk in the parking lot. You should check the law where you have employees and then determine what you think would be effective.

Some companies provide active shooter training for their employees. There are vendors that specialize in developing an escape or protection plan for workers, should a shooting occur. This type of training may be included in the onboarding process and also done on a periodic basis. 

Keeping Employees Healthy and Breaking Up as Kindly as Possible

One of the more common scenarios in a workplace violence situation is that an employee or former employee has a mental health issue and takes out their anger at the workplace. There is no sure-fire way to identify a worker that may have an issue, but employers should emphasize Employee Assistance Programs and other mental health insurance benefits to the employees. If supervisors are concerned about a current employee’s behavior, make sure they know how to notify you. Open communication between management and employees also may help to early identify any pending workplace issues. 

When you let an employee go, think about what you can do to take some of the pressure off of the newly out-of-work person. Make sure they understand when they will get their last paycheck and what it will cover. If their health insurance will not end until the end of the month, let them know that (because it may be one less immediate concern). If they have money in a 401k, connect them with someone who can help them make decisions about it—rolling it over or accessing it. Consider letting them resign so they don’t have to tell their next employer they were fired. Also, let them know if you have a neutral reference policy so they know what you will say when they apply for jobs.

If You Hear Something, Say Something

Encourage your employees to report anything they hear from another worker that may indicate the potential for workplace violence. You should provide a safe, confidential way for employees to warn the company that something doesn’t seem right. Early intervention could allow you to get the troubled employee some help and hopefully diffuse a possibly violent situation.

Local management should also establish a good relationship with local law enforcement. This will allow honest, and timely, dialogue about a possible problem should the need arise.

Post-incident Issues

If your company is one of the unlucky ones to suffer a workplace violence event, it is important to have a plan that can be implemented quickly. Take the time now to review your benefits and what employees may need if the unthinkable happens. Injured employees will need health insurance support or assistance applying for short-term or long-term disability. In some states, injuries from an active shooter event may be compensable under workers’ comp, assuming it was not a “personal” dispute between workers. Employees may need time off, so be sure you are ready to offer FMLA or other leave that may be available. Many employees who have never sought counseling will need it. Consider putting together a list of available options in your area, whether through your Employee Assistance Program, health insurance coverage, or other local counseling options. Many health insurance plans have provisions for short-term counseling, and you should make sure your employees know how to access them and are encouraged to do so.

After an event, employers may also see a rise in requests for ADA accommodations for post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues. Make sure your supervisors and managers understand your ADA policies and know how to engage in the interactive process or notify someone who can.

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Photo of J. William Manuel J. William Manuel

Will Manuel focuses his practice primarily on commercial and employment litigation. Will advises businesses on issues involving age discrimination, sexual harassment and wage/overtime disputes for both large and small businesses in across Mississippi and other jurisdictions. His clients include numerous manufacturers and commercial…

Will Manuel focuses his practice primarily on commercial and employment litigation. Will advises businesses on issues involving age discrimination, sexual harassment and wage/overtime disputes for both large and small businesses in across Mississippi and other jurisdictions. His clients include numerous manufacturers and commercial interests as well as various insurance and financial services companies. He has worked to defend these clients in both MDL litigation and individual actions brought in Mississippi. Will’s focus is on active litigation from the initial discovery process through trial. View articles by Will.

Photo of Anne R. Yuengert Anne R. Yuengert

Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and…

Anne Yuengert works with clients to manage their employees, including conducting workplace investigations of harassment or theft, training employees and supervisors, consulting on reductions in force and severance agreements, drafting employment agreements (including enforceable noncompetes) and handbooks, assessing reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and working through issues surrounding FMLA and USERRA leave. When preventive measures are not enough, she handles EEOC charges, OFCCP and DOL complaints and investigations, and has handled cases before arbitrators, administrative law judges and federal and state court judges. She has tried more than 30 cases to verdict.