Relying on "Stop-Gap" Measures
Whenever we encounter an organization that has not considered the issue of violence or other high-risk events occurring in the workplace, and we inquire about their expected reaction to these critical situations, a common response is "well, we'll just call the police". Another common response is, "we'll just refer him to the EAP program."
We often become involved in situations in which the risks have escalated or have actually become more complicated, because the organization made some quick decisions that on the surface appeared to be logical.
Some of these quick decisions involved 1) prematurely involving law enforcement, 2) taking out restraining orders or other legal actions without considering the consequences, or 3) reflexively referring to mental health providers that had little experience or capability in helping the company manage the threats that they were encountering.
I am certainly not implying at all that law enforcement and mental health should not be involved; in fact, they frequently represent a very critical part of the threat management plans that we develop in response to threatening situations. However, neither response represents a sole, stop-gap measure that a company can routinely rely upon.
At the basis of this is sometimes the belief that managing Workplace Violence is solely a "security management problem" - the belief that this is just a matter of walking someone out the door or having some kind of armed presence in front of your office for a couple of days. For some situations, that may be exactly what is required. For some, it is not - and may even be counterproductive.
In all situations involving a threat of violence, it is critical that any action (or inaction) be considered in light of the possible consequences, both positive and negative.
It may be that law enforcement, for example, cannot act in the manner that we would prefer. If there has not been a crime committed and if the purpose of sending law enforcement is to investigate or intimidate the individual, then certainly one needs to be cognizant of the potential consequences of that contact.
This is certainly also true of any legal action, such as protective or temporary restraining orders. Whereas a protective order may be quite appropriate in many situations, one has to consider carefully the inflammatory possibilities and the consequences for those named in that order.
Employee Assistance Programs and mental health counseling in general are always highly recommended, and certainly are critical and useful in any kind of workplace violence prevention program. However, due to the legitimate concerns about confidentiality, mental health providers are not often in a position to advise and adequately address the company's concerns. Further, they may not be capable of assessing the problem from the company's perspective, as their perspective is generally that of an individual counselor, who probably is not trained in Threat Assessment or Critical Response Consultation.
The Threat Response Team
The first thing that has to happen when someone reports a potentially threatening set of circumstances is to make certain that this information is quickly and effectively routed to the individual, or individuals, within the company who are responsible for the company's response.
Most all of the experts in this field have concurred that the establishment of a "Threat Response Team" (or "Risk Management Team" or "Critical Incident Team") is the most effective vehicle to coordinate and plan this process.
This process truly works better through a multi-disciplinary approach. Utilization of a trained team allows for a "meeting of the minds" in which different individuals with different roles within the organization can each analyze the problem from their operational perspective, and can be available to challenge each other's ideas and proposals.
The organization's response team would be ideally responsible for coordinating all aspects of the company's workplace violence program. This would include:
- Reviewing the organization's policy
- Developing a Threat Response Plan
- Ensuring that employees are aware of their respective responsibilities
- Establishing and maintaining an effective reporting process
- Investigating reported incidents
- Managing incidents when and after they occur
- Overseeing the company's overall prevention program
The members of the team may vary. It is typically suggested that the core team consist of representatives from Security/Risk Management, Legal and Human Resources, but this depends on the organization's structure. Other permanent members may include (but are not limited to) someone from management, a member of the company's Occupational Health or Medical team, and a Consulting Psychologist who specializes in threat assessment. There will be occasionally be case-specific "ad hoc" members of the team - generally local HR and security managers who are involved in that particular case.
This team should be trained so that they understand their responsibilities and the basics of initiating a safe and effective Threat Response Plan. It is not necessary for them to be experts in threat assessment or security procedures, but they do need to know where to go to quickly find these resources - those who can advise them and help guide the process if further assistance is required.
A colleague of mine once offered a definition of these critical, high-risk events, as "a rapidly developing incident, where information is incomplete, stress levels are high, and there is an acceptance that not making a decision is not an option." If a company is not prepared, and does not have in place designated personnel who are trained and capable of managing a response process, then events can rapidly get out of control, to the point that the only option left is to "call the police."