Preventing gun violence in the workplace

This is an article I am not very keen on writing. However, it is an issue that is becoming increasingly important to plan for in the workplace: guns and gun violence. My goal is not to get into a debate about gun control. Rather, it is to discuss how businesses should plan and develop an appropriate violence-prevention plan.

As recent news stories show, gun violence can appear rather suddenly, and planning may make all the difference in saving lives and preventing serious injuries.

This topic is complex, so it's impossible to cover all the relevant issues in depth in this short article. So at the end of the article, I list references for further reading and as aids for creating a violence-prevention policy.

Some statistics

According to a 2008 report by the ASIS Foundation, a nonprofit focused on research for the security profession, an average of 500 to 600 homicides occur in U.S. workplaces each year, at an approximate cost of $800,000 per death. More than three-quarters of workplace homicides are committed with guns, with two-thirds related to robberies and one-third related to disputes in the workplace, disputes with clients or customers, or domestic violence that spills into the workplace.

Situations and options to consider

Weapons may be brought into a Wisconsin business in multiple ways, some of which are legal and some of which are not. For example, armed police officers may be on the premises. Employees and visitors may have a license to carry a weapon and may do so in an open or concealed manner, depending on the business's policies. Employees or visitors could be unlicensed and yet carry a weapon for personal protection. In the worst cases, a disgruntled former employee, a domestic abuser, or a violent individual may arrive on the premises. I purposely avoided the term "criminal" for that last category because, in the case of the Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wis., shootings, the gunmen were not even alleged criminals before they engaged in violent acts.

Clearly, if the police are on the premises, they have every right and reason to be armed. However, in a dangerous situation, bystanders or employees can be harmed, as demonstrated at the Empire State Building and in this tragic story from the Bronx, N.Y.

Employees and visitors may have weapons because they are properly licensed and, of course, it is up to each business to decide whether it will allow or ban weapons in some or all situations. For example, security personnel or a few select employees could carry weapons while customers or the public could not. When Wisconsin passed its concealed carry law last year, I had multiple conversations about businesses that were allowing weapons out fear of "losing" the immunity provided by the new law. I hope since that time, businesses have had a chance to understand when that immunity would be useful or available. There is a great discussion on that topic by attorney Mark Hinkston in the July 2012 issue of Wisconsin Lawyer.

If your business allows weapons on the premises, then I would suggest developing rules on how the weapons are stored and handled. Perhaps a registration log would be useful for the business to know who does have a weapon. Most importantly, however, there should be a requirement that any employee carrying a weapon must be trained to use it in stressful situations. Considering trained police officers make mistakes and can injure people while making split-second decisions, I have doubts about the responsive capabilities of the average gun owner.

Elements of violence prevention policies

The following is a list of questions to consider when developing a violence-prevention policy. These questions are listed as planning tools, rather than as a comprehensive checklist of elements that must be included in a policy.

  1. Are weapons allowed on your premises? Which ones (guns, knives, Tasers, billy clubs)? Are weapons allowed for open carry, concealed, or both? Are employees and visitors required to declare if they are carrying weapons? Are there rules on how weapons are to be handled or stored while on your premises? Are there rules on whether employees can use a weapon or act as a "first responder" in an emergency? Do other employees or police know who those internal responders are? Are weapon carriers required to get extra training so they can effectively use the weapons in stressful conditions?
  2. If you do not allow weapons, have you posted legally required signs to inform employees and visitors of the weapons ban, as required by Wisconsin's concealed carry law? Have you communicated the ban directly to employees? Does your policy encourage employees to discuss personal safety concerns (such as domestic violence situations) that may make them want to carry a weapon? Are there exceptions for carrying guns in employee vehicles and on company parking lots, as required by Wisconsin's concealed carry law? Are suggestions provided on ways employees can secure the weapon when it is stored in a vehicle? Do you ensure that your hiring and staffing practices do not discriminate against licensed weapon holders?
  3. Are you providing training for your front desk or parking lot staff on how to react in an emergency? Is that person expected to notify the police or internal security? If so, is training provided on how to request help without endangering themselves? Are employees trained to notice suspicious behaviors or potential risks? How are employees to respond during an incident, in terms of finding safety or assisting others? Is there an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency? Are employees informed to turn off their cell phones or set them to silent during an incident?

Resources for developing a violence prevention policy

The following links may be useful in developing a policy for your organization. Please note, the links are for informational purposes only and should not be considered an endorsement. Please be mindful that the last link leads to a graphic, potentially unsettling video depicting a shooter in an office building.

  1. Information from OSHA for developing a violence prevention program
  2. ASIS International Report on Preventing Gun Violence in the Workplace
  3. Sample Workplace Violence Prevention Policy from SHRM (may require SHRM membership and login)
  4. SHRM and ASIS International Standard Guide for Preventing Workplace Violence (may require SHRM membership and login)
  5. "Run Hide Fight" public service video on how to respond to a shooter in the workplace