NASE in the News

Stay tuned! Check out our latest videos, television appearances and podcasts.

Preventing Violence In The Small-Business Workplace

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, an estimated 2 million Americans are victims of violence in the workplace each year.

The suffering that follows a violent incident is not just limited to individuals. The health of your business can also take a hit in the wake of workplace violence, with effects that range from lost revenue to decreased productivity.

Those negative effects are perhaps most deeply felt by small businesses, which can take more time to recover than their larger counterparts.

When it comes to violence prevention, a proactive approach is best. Unfortunately, too many business owners falsely assume their establishment is immune from threat, not realizing their mistake until it’s too late.

This article explores suggestions designed to insulate your small business from occupational violence. When you and your employees feel safe, you can focus on what’s most important: the work.

Thwarting The Bad Guys

When most people hear the words “workplace violence,” their thoughts turn to mass murders committed by unhinged employees.

But the high-profile cases we hear about in the media aren’t representative of the threats faced by most small businesses.

The people who are most likely to bring violence into your place of business are actually strangers—thugs who plan to commit crimes like robbery or rape. According to a 2001 report issued by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, criminal intent accounts for 85 percent of occupational violence.

Crooks are less likely to target your business if you pay attention to details. Consider consulting with a security expert who has been trained to spot problem areas. Business practices (such as hours of operation) and physical characteristics (like lighting and location) are critical considerations.

Small businesses such as shops that are open to the public—especially those that keep cash on the premises—might need to take special steps to ensure workers’ safety.

Dealing With Domestic Violence

According to a report issued in 2000 by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of women will be abused by a partner during their lifetimes.

The phrase “domestic violence” implies that such abuse occurs within the confines of the home, but that is not always the case.

Abusive partners often stalk, confront or otherwise assault victims while they’re on the job because it’s an easy place to find them. Such behavior creates an unsafe working environment, not just for the targeted victims, but also for their co-workers.

Victims of domestic violence frequently feel stigmatized, which has created a culture of secrecy and shame surrounding abuse. That silence is reinforced when business owners refuse to broach the topic with employees.

Domestic violence is a tough topic because it blurs the line between the personal and the professional. But, as a business owner, you can focus on practical steps that support victimized employees without being intrusive. Some ideas:

  • Encourage employees to come forward whenever they feel unsafe
  • Screen phone calls and onsite visitors
  • Offer assistance to employees who need counseling or legal protection

Recognizing Troubled Employees

Violent behavior rarely occurs out of the blue. Many perpetrators broadcast their intentions (consciously or unconsciously) before the violent act occurs.

Learn to watch for signs that might indicate something is wrong at work or at home.

  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Disgruntled employees are more likely to behave erratically or inappropriately than to verbalize their feelings. For example, they might exhibit rapid mood swings or a sharp drop in work performance.

  • Learn how to spot signs of victimization. Remember that perpetrators are often external to your workforce. An employee who frequently misses work or comes in with mysterious injuries might be a victim of domestic abuse, which puts your premises at higher risk of attack.

  • Know the triggers. Like asthma attacks, some violent incidents have identifiable triggers. Work and life events that can spark assaults include conflict (professional or personal), romantic breakups, money problems, perceived slights and prolonged stress.

  • Heed threats, however unlikely they seem. Threats come in all shapes and sizes. Some are stated out loud; others are implied through body language. Threats can even be experienced as a vague sense that there’s something awry. Whatever form it takes, a threat must be taken seriously. Encourage your employees to report threats, and if possible, provide more than one channel through which they can do so.

Perform Background Checks

Applicants tend to be on their best behavior as they interview for a job, so you might need to dig deeper as you look for warning signs that a potential employee is prone to violence.

Background checks and other forms of employee screening can be effective tools in violence prevention. Here are four tips that will help with your hunt.

  1. Check references and verify facts.

    Professional references can be a great source of information. Check those sources just as you would confirm educational history or verify personal references. Because we live in a litigious society, some former employers are unwilling to share information beyond basic facts like dates of employment and job title. In any case, you should be able to spot outright fabrications. While dishonesty isn’t directly linked with violent behavior, lying is never a good sign.
  2. Look for signs of criminal activity.

    Criminal records are often available through the state or the federal government. Accessibility (and the extent to which the records are allowed to influence your hiring decision) varies from state to state.
  3. Administer a drug test.

    Researchers have repeatedly found there is a strong link between drug abuse and violence. And, according to the website of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, small businesses are the “employer of choice” for substance abusers.
  4. Make sure you’re in compliance with the law.

    As you screen applicants, it’s important to make sure you respect their right to privacy. Anti-discrimination laws and privacy protections vary across states. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and check with a lawyer. You may also need to receive written consent from the applicant to delve into his or her past.

Promote A Culture Of Honesty And Openness

According to a 2004 report on workplace violence issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “violent events are prevalent in small businesses where workers may lack a voice.”

It’s critical to cultivate a work environment in which everyone has the opportunity to be heard.

Additionally, it’s vital to set clear expectations about behaviors that are unacceptable, including threats, harassment and physical aggression. Craft a written code of conduct that outlines your policy and explain what the consequences will be when rules are broken. Enforce the rules consistently and impartially. 

Safe workspaces depend on cooperation and cordial professional relationships. Make sure the lines of communication between management and staff members are always open, especially in times of heightened stress.

No matter how hard you strive to create a peaceful environment, a certain amount of conflict is inevitable in your work life. Healthy disagreements between co-workers often fuel creativity and innovation. Heated and hostile arguments, on the other hand, can quickly turn toxic—and dangerous.

When conflict rears its ugly head, it’s best to address it swiftly and directly. Ignoring problems only breeds resentment and contempt.

Make sure you provide an appropriate outlet for all parties to air grievances. Encourage everyone to work through differences calmly and respectfully. You might even want to ask a third party to mediate particularly thorny disputes.

Finally, take care when handling delicate situations like firings, layoffs and disciplinary actions. A little sensitivity goes a long way.

Handling The Aftermath

No matter how committed you are to prevention, workplace violence is a fact of life. When the worst happens, your goal is to mitigate the long-term effects that the incident might have on you, your employees and your business.

While it’s invisible to the eye, psychological distress is just as real as any bodily injury. Many victims can benefit from a counselor’s care. Help your employees get the assistance they need as quickly as possible. Be as flexible as you can with accommodating time-off requests. Allow employees to work from home or make other adjustments as appropriate.

Sharing information with staff as it becomes available is another critical step toward healing. Any information you try to suppress is likely to leak or become the subject of rumors. A climate of distrust is the last thing you want to create in the wake of a disruption.

Finally, bear in mind that people deal with trauma in different ways. Honor employees’ reactions as they arise and provide support as best you can. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also the best way to ensure the continuing health of your business.

For More Information

Find more information on workplace violence at these websites.

The Small Business Administration’s guide to performing pre-employment background checks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s index of resources on occupational violence

The U.S. Department of Labor’s collection of workplace violence prevention standards, suggested solutions and other resources

And be sure to check out these NASE articles for more information about health and wellness for the small-business owners:


The Latest News from the NASE

Our RSS feed service allows you to retrieve instant updates from the NASE website. est articles, news, and other helpful information, all delivered directly to you!

Courtesy of