The last time you interviewed for a job, you probably spent your time focusing on responsibilities, compensation and benefits. You probably didn’t even think of something more important: would working there put your life in danger?
I’m not being an alarmist. The number of high-profile workplace shooting incidents over the past few years should have most employers paying as much attention to employee safety as they do to the bottom line. The vast majority of those incidents have been rooted in domestic violence, and when the shooters arrived at their estranged partner’s workplace, everyone was a potential target. In some shootings, bystanders died or were seriously injured just because they came to work that day.
Suppose the woman in the next cubicle, the adjacent office, or the workstation to your left had moved out of her home because her husband was becoming increasingly violent. Maybe she even took out a protective order. You know her casually, but don’t know anything about her situation at home until the day her husband storms past the friendly receptionist at the front desk, confronts the woman, pulls out a handgun, and opens fire.
I previously served as a violent crimes detective for a metropolitan police department and helped start a domestic violence unit. It didn’t take me long to learn that violent spouses aren’t deterred by a protective orders, or that many abusers are actually cowards who will seek the point of least resistance when they’re ready to act out. They might not have known where their partners were staying, but they knew exactly where they could find them each day from 9 to 5. That’s why studies show that three-quarters of victims report having been harassed at work.
If you’re in a “white collar” profession, don’t assume this doesn’t apply. Back in 2010, an angry husband killed his wife. He blamed co-workers at the downtown Indianapolis company where she worked for the couple’s marital issues, brought a gun, and fired two shots at the company’s office from an adjacent parking garage before falling to his death.
Recently, I spoke with a female partner for a large law firm who shared her worries about working in the evening. She sees people in the office and doesn’t know whether they’re supposed to be there. Is she safe in her office? When visiting the restroom? No matter how alert she may be, it’s tough to outsmart someone who has a weapon.
That’s why security doesn’t begin at a worker’s desk or workstation. It starts with a perimeter that stops the bad guys (and gals) from accessing the location in the first place. Once someone is in your facility, your opportunities to prevent a violent or criminal act become limited. If you’re aware that an employee is involved in a dangerous situation such as a violent relationship, you can step up the defenses. Make sure your security team, supervisors, and people like receptionists are aware of the threat. Circulate photos of the spouse so they’ll recognize him (or her) and train them to call 911 immediately if he shows up.
Even after you’ve allowed someone to enter your facility, you need to monitor where they are and what they’re doing. Many companies will not let visitors move around their facilities without some kind of employee escort. That’s smart.
If you’re an employer, you have an ethical responsibility to keep your workers safe. You need to make sure you’re educated about the realities of domestic and workplace violence, and provide training to supervisors and employees. You should have systems that limit access to your facilities, and that ensure anyone who is in those facilities can be identified.
Providing this kind of security is an investment in creating a culture where workers feel that they and their co-workers are safe. Workers who don’t have to worry about their safety can focus on their jobs, so they’ll be more productive. Having a safe workplace with effective security can even be a powerful competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting.
If you’re an employee, set high standards for your employer. Ask what they’re doing to protect you from threats like this. Urge them to provide domestic violence and workplace safety training, and encourage your co-workers to participate. If everyone is paying attention and looking out for each other, the potential for something bad to happen is significantly smaller.
Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.