The Terrorist to Fear Most May be an Employee's Spouse

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As the world sees more small-scale terrorist attacks, some employers worry about their places of business becoming targets. The odds are much larger that they'll face a different kind of terror: one from an employee's personal life.

Terror attacks tend to grab the headlines, so it makes sense that employers see them as a threat. But the reality is that what we normally think of as terrorism presents only a miniscule threat to most Americans. In fact, according to a Cato Institute study, you’re more than four times like to die as the result of a heat wave than from an attack by a foreign-born terrorist.

There is, however, one very real threat of violence to your business. That’s the possibility that a domestic violence situation involving one of your employees will spill over into your workplace. In recent years, there have been incidents throughout the state and the nation in which someone shows up at a workplace intending to do harm to an estranged spouse or romantic partner. And far too often, other people are caught in the crossfire.

Consider the April 2017 shooting in an elementary school classroom in San Bernardino, California. A gunman stormed into the school and shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. But as he fired, he also fatally struck a small child and wounded another.

While awareness of domestic violence is growing, there are still some employers who brush it off as a private, family matter. However, it spills over into the workplace far too often. That not only puts victims in danger – it can also put others who work nearby in harm’s way. And even if no violence occurs, the threat can lower performance and productivity. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that employers lose nearly 8 million days of paid work each year to domestic violence and related issues.

Take a moment to imagine your office, factory floor, or warehouse (or even your parking lot) on any given day. If an enraged spouse armed with a firearm stormed in, could your receptionist stop him? Once he was through the door, how much havoc could he cause in the four or five minutes it would take for the police to respond to the receptionist’s 911 call? What would happen to any well-meaning employees who tried to intervene?

If your company doesn’t have a formal plan, you’re not alone. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 65 percent of employers lack a plan for dealing with domestic violence – and just one employer in five provides any training related to domestic violence to its employees.

Think the risk of something happening in your company is too low to justify that kind of training? Of the companies SHRM surveyed, 19 percent had dealt with a domestic violence issue in the previous year. Another study found that 21 percent of full-time workers had been victims of domestic abuse. That’s more than one in five. Of those who had been abused, 74 percent reported having been harassed at work. Even if a victim has fled her home, her abuser knows where she’ll be during work hours. (And if you think my pronoun choices are sexist, the CDC reports that 85 percent of victims are women.)

Protecting your employees begins by creating a strong perimeter to keep that enraged spouse from getting into those areas in the first place, and a plan for action if he manages to breach that perimeter. Tools such as visitor management systems, “panic buttons” that alert the police, and electronic access systems on all doors can all reduce the risks.

Second, you need to create a culture in which employees who are victims feel that they can disclose their situation and know that you’ll take steps to protect them. You can have specific procedures in place to block phone calls and warn employees if an abuser shows up.

Finally, you need to train your staff about realities of domestic violence, so they can pay attention, recognize the signs, and act. Just as you pay attention to their health and wellness, you need to make them active participants in their own safety.

Whether you fear a terrorist act, the odds suggest that there’s a much greater likelihood that your company and your employees could come face-to-face with the situation involving domestic violence. Planning to minimize the risk is both practical and prudent.

Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.

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