Employers have a legal and ethical obligation to promote a work environment free from threats and violence and, in addition, can face economic loss resulting from workplace violence in the form of lost work time, damaged employee morale and productivity, increased workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and possible lawsuits and liability costs.
To meet the special challenge of extending workplace violence protection to small businesses, organizational leaders, law enforcement, occupational safety representatives, and social service communities should consider a variety of possible initiatives. These could include programs to:
- Design model violence-prevention programs, policies and accompanying training courses and materials that are specifically tailored to the needs and resources of small businesses.
- Conduct outreach and awareness campaigns to familiarize small employers with the issue of workplace violence and disseminate model programs.
- Put workplace violence on the agenda for community policing programs and add it to the list of concerns police officers address during their contacts with community groups and neighborhood businesses. A proactive effort to encourage reporting of incidents and/or problematic behavior could assist in preventing violence.
- Compile and distribute lists of resources available to help employers deal with harassment of all types, threats and threatening behavior or violent incidents (e.g. mental health providers, public-interest law clinics, police, or other threat assessment specialists, etc.).
- Enlist the help of existing advocacy and community groups in publicizing workplace violence and prevention issues. Potential partners in this effort include neighborhood antiviolence and crime-watch committees, anti-domestic violence activists, antidiscrimination organizations, ethnic associations; immigrant rights groups, and others.
- Develop proposals for economic incentives such as insurance premium discounts or tax credits for small business managers who attend training or implement anti- violence prevention plans.
- Establish cooperative projects in which larger local employers, labor unions, insurers, and business or industry associations, in cooperation with local law enforcement, help provide training and assistance in violence prevention for small business owners and employees.
- Incorporate an antiviolence message and suggested prevention plans in material distributed with Small Business Administration loan applications, licensing forms, inspection notices, correspondence on workers’ compensation claims, and other federal, state, and local government documents that reach all employers.
- Create public service announcements and Web pages that call attention to workplace violence issues, outline antiviolence measures, and list sources of assistance and support.
These and similar measures will be more effective if they occur in the context of a broader national effort by government, employer groups, and law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of workplace violence prevention. During the last two decades, the Occupational Safety and Health Act has heightened public consciousness of other workplace hazards, while the activities of women’s rights and other advocacy organizations have brought increased recognition and dramatically changed attitudes toward domestic violence. In similar fashion, if a national constituency evolves with the aim of expanding knowledge and public concern about workplace violence, that almost certainly represents the best avenue to extend preventive efforts to those employers and employees with the fewest resources of their own.