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Work Life

Dealing with Workplace Violence: A Guide for Agency Planners


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Case Studies


The call comes in. Someone's been shot -- there is a fight going on -- someone's been threatened -- someone's being stalked by an ex-boyfriend -- someone's threatening suicide -- someone wants to put a stop to the "bullying" behavior that's been going on in his office.

These are just a few examples of the types of incidents reported.

How each agency responds to these reports will differ, not only among agencies but also within each agency, because the circumstances surrounding each situation are different. Even in agencies that are highly structured and have well-thought-out procedures in place, the response will necessarily depend on:

  • The nature of the incident,
  • The circumstances surrounding the incident,
  • Who is available to respond, and
  • Who has the skills to deal with the particular situation.

What has been learned from agencies' many years of experience is that the most effective way to handle these situations is to take a team approach, rather than having one office handle a situation alone. In some cases of workplace homicides, it became apparent that the situation got out of control because personnel specialists did not inform security about a problem employee, or coworkers were not warned about the threatening behavior of an ex-employee, or one agency specialist felt he had to "go it alone" in handling the situation.

Agencies should have plans in place ahead of time so that emergency and non-emergency situations can be dealt with as soon as possible. However, it is also necessary to build the maximum amount of flexibility possible into any plan.

Basic Concepts

Since agencies and situations differ, specific steps or procedures to follow on a Governmentwide basis would be inappropriate and impractical. However, there are some basic concepts that all agencies should keep in mind when formulating their strategy to address workplace violence.

  • Respond promptly to immediate dangers to personnel and the workplace.
  • Investigate threats and other reported incidents.
  • Take threats and threatening behavior seriously; employees may not step forward with their concerns if they think that management will dismiss their worries.
  • Deal with the issue of what may appear to be frivolous allegations (and concerns based on misunderstandings) by responding to each report seriously and objectively.
  • Take disciplinary actions when warranted.
  • Support victims and other affected workers after an incident.
  • Attempt to bring the work environment back to normal after an incident.

How to Use the Case Studies

The case studies presented in this section are derived from real life situations that have arisen in Federal agencies. They are intended to provide assistance to agency planners as they develop workplace violence programs and assess their readiness to handle these types of situations. It should be noted that, in some of the case studies, the circumstances have been modified to make them better learning tools.

As you read the case studies, keep in mind that there is no one correct way to handle each situation. The case studies should not be taken as specific models of how to handle certain types of situations. Rather, they should be a starting point for a discussion and exploration of how a team approach can be instituted and adapted to the specific needs and requirements of your agency.

Questions for discussion

The case studies are intended to raise questions such as:

  1. Do we agree with the approach the agency took in the case study?
  2. If not, why wouldn't that approach work for us?
  3. Do we have adequate resources to handle such a situation?

Questions for program evaluation

Establish a system to evaluate the effectiveness of your response in actual situations that arise so that you can change your procedures if necessary. Ask the following questions after reviewing each of the case studies and after planning how your agency would respond to the same or a similar situation:

  1. Does our workplace violence program have a process for evaluating the effectiveness of the team's approach following an incident?
  2. Would our written policy statement and written procedures limit our ability to easily adopt a more effective course of action in the future, if an evaluation of our response showed that a change in procedures was necessary?
  3. Do we have plans to test our response procedures and capability through practice exercises and preparedness drills and change procedures if necessary?

Although these case studies are derived from real life situations, the characters in them are fictional and have been created for educational purposes. No reference to any individual living or dead is intended or should be inferred.


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