13 November 2019Law & regulation

The role of HR in workplace violence (active shooter) preparedness

Human resources (HR) professionals develop, interpret, and enforce organisational policies, and are responsible for handling terminations, hiring, promotion, and zero-tolerance protocols. They are often held accountable for overlooking or disregarding evidence of threats or criminal convictions uncovered in the hiring process.
Business owners must recognise that HR personnel are often at higher risk of being the victim of an incident of workplace violence than other employees.

At risk

The Society of Human Resources Management, the largest HR professional society, revealed that 48 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that their organisation had experienced workplace violence.
While the workplace shooting at a Virginia Beach government office was the deadliest workplace shooting of 2019, it was not the first. On February 15, 2019, a shooter at a manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois, killed five victims.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 458 of 5,000 workplace fatalities in 2017 were homicides. Co-workers or other work associates perpetrated 15 percent of those homicides.

The first line of defence

HR professionals have a lot to manage, and sometimes ideas can be conflicting.

  • Employees’ rights need to be addressed quickly and promptly. HR needs to follow federal, state, and local labour laws. When violence occurs lawyers will look to see if there were any violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.
  • HR professionals need to know and understand the rules and exemptions when it comes to protecting employees. They need to know when to disclose information and when to keep information private, primarily when risks to others occur.
  • HR professionals must look for warning signs and concerning behaviours of employees. If these signs or behaviours continue without any intervention, it could lead to workplace violence incidents. Such warning signs may not fall under the company’s zero-tolerance policies, like sexual harassment or more physical incidents, but may include depression or disgruntlement. These should be seen as clues.

HR professionals cannot do it all, especially in smaller businesses. Knowing when to bring in law enforcement or other experts is vital in accounting for organisational “blind spots”.
It is wise to work with law enforcement in incidents of risky dismissals, to counsel those involved in a risky dismissal on de-escalation techniques, and to offer outplacement services, help with résumés, and a letter of reference to terminated employees, if appropriate.

Collaboration reduces the risk

Having the right team of HR professionals in place to connect employees with additional resources is an important step in reducing the likelihood of workplace violence.
HR departments should strive to create a psychologically healthy workplace where employees have no fear of repercussion for speaking out when they suspect someone might be displaying warning signs of workplace violence.
All employees should receive training from a conflict management firm. With more staff awareness, violent situations are less likely to occur.

Always have a plan

HR professionals should evaluate security and risk management holistically. No matter the size of a business, a plan to prevent workplace violence must be put in place.
Taking proactive steps to reduce workplace violence and creating the ability to respond to an incident of workplace violence quickly makes the workplace a difficult target for violent offenders.
McGowan Program Administrators knows what an effective insurance response can do if there’s an emergency. Our Active Shooter/Workplace Violence insurance programme helps organisations and provides comprehensive coverage, including day one coverages for victims, primary liability, business interruption, extra expense, and crisis management services.
We’re ready to help set up a plan for businesses and organisations of any size.

Paul Marshall is managing director of active shooter and workplace violence at McGowan Program Administrators. He can be contacted at: