Workplace Violence

This is the first of a series of 3 posts concerning workplace violence. As part of my Continuing Mediator Education required to maintain my certification as a Civil Court Mediator in Florida, I attended a lecture on workplace violence that was taught by an employee of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Unfortunately, most of us are familiar with media accounts of high publicity examples of workplace violence. While these tragedies garner national attention, particularly when there are multiple casualties, the more common forms of workplace violence often occur, in many respects, “under the radar.” The #MeToo movement has been an eye opener for many people who, until it burst on the scene a few years ago, had been blissfully unaware of the egregious acts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other sex crimes that occur in workplace settings. In addition to workplace violence that is sexual, there are other forms of violence in work settings ranging from ostracizing to bullying to domestic violence that spills over from the home into our places of work. As an employee, prior to the time David and I owned and operated Magnus, I was frequently a target of sexual harassment, including inappropriate comments about my appearance, lewd gestures made by a male supervisor, frequent requests for dates by supervisors, and once, grabbing me from behind in a dark room while watching mock jury deliberations through a one way mirror. I also witnessed violence between one of my bosses toward another employee, who was her romantic partner, as well as toward David, directed at him because of his gender and ethnicity (the latter formed the basis for a federal lawsuit against this employer). As a business owner, I have been told by my employees about other employees’ and vendors’ sexually harassing them, verbally abusing them, and in general, bullying them into doing something they did not want to do. Workplace violence can be dangerous, particularly when domestic partners bring their problems into the workplace of one partner. Sadly, this is a problem that is not going to go away. The most we, as employers, can do, is to be aware of it, including stopping bullying before it turns into something more serious and take steps to ensure there is nothing inherent in our environment that is facilitating violence.

It is disturbing that workplace violence, in any form, is enough of a problem that it was included on the agenda for Melissa’s mediator continuing education. This fact is enough to give one pause, and it makes me think how different things are in the world at large than in our small business.  I certainly know about issues such as sexual harassment, bullying, etc., from our cases, from my college and graduate school business education, and from the real world of work.  But the fact that it permeates the world enough to require consideration during litigation and mediation was surprising.  As employers, Melissa and I have been mindful of these issues from the beginning, when we compiled our first employee manual.  Subsequent revisions have beefed up those policies over time though one can never capture every nuance of such topics.  Of course in some instances, the violator is the employer or other supervisor who thinks he or she is above the rules.  We have been fortunate, or our vigilance has paid off, that the instances of any of these bad behaviors are few in our world.  Newsmaking workplace events in the world are fortunately relatively few as well, however sensational they are when they occur. Television shows, movies, etc., often include workplace violence/harassment as subject matter.  Sometimes it is shown in its ugliest negative, other times it is perhaps less clearly conveyed as tolerated by some people, and at some times, in the workplace.  But, one lesson learned over the past years is to always be alert for signs and cues that something is amiss.  Communicating the “see something/say something” nature of workplace or domestic violence to employees is an important step in addressing the problem at large.  To be continued…

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