If you advise employers, then you’re probably used to giving advice that derives more from good HR practices than from what the law requires. However, does that extend to advising clients how to avoid or address potential workplace violence situations? Obviously we want to protect our clients. But do we have the knowledge to identify and respond to these situations or is that better left to law enforcement and security companies?
I believe that we have an obligation to identify for our clients situations that put them at risk. While there’s no single profile for workers who turn violent, factors that frequently turn up are obsession over perceived wrongs, unusual changes in behavior, and excessive thoughts about violence. Unfortunately, those factors also show up in people who never do any harm. So what do we do?
When I see a situation that concerns me, I tell the client that I don’t have any special insight or training in identifying these behaviors, but this seems like a situation where they may want to talk to the police and/or whomever provides their workplace security. Of course, clients also need legal advice in these situations, such as the extent of their right to search employees’ persons, vehicles, or work areas; what information they can disclose to others without violating privacy rights; and sometimes whether and how to get an injunction. And who better to provide that advice than their employment lawyers?
If you have other thoughts on how to handle these situations, I welcome your comments.