Last month the nation was stunned when Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed live on WDBJ7 television and on social media in Virginia. A disgruntled ex-employee of the station committed the act of what is considered workplace violence. Could this type of crime happen in your dealership? Yes, it could. Could this type of behavior been detected and prevented? The answer here is a bit more complicated. Although you cannot detect or prevent one hundred percent of workplace violence, there are some basic practices that you can implement to reduce your dealership’s liability and risk associated with it.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all employers, including motorcycle dealerships, are required to provide safe work environments for their employees. The official definition of workplace violence is: Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Such behaviors can include threats, psychological intimidation, verbal threats, as well as homicide.
Is what happened in Virginia an isolated incident? The answer is no. In 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census, out of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries, 506 of those were workplace homicides. What this reveals is that when an employee died at work in 2010 — over 11 percent of the time someone killed them in an act of violence! In addition nearly 2 million employees report that they have been victims of workplace violence. These statistics show that workplace violence is widespread and deserves our attention as business owners.
What can we do to reduce our risk, detect and or prevent workplace violence in the dealership? The first thing that you can do is to have a policy in your employee manual that defines what workplace violence is and that it will not be tolerated in your dealership in any way, shape or form. Violations for workplace violence issues should be addressed immediately. By having a formal policy addressing work place violence in the dealership you are laying the groundwork to provide a safe work environment for your employees as well as limiting your dealership’s risk should problems arise.
Choosing to ignore workplace violence can possibly escalate such behavior in the dealership. And to that end, when you are overlooking violent behavior, you are basically condoning such behavior. By ignoring the issues you could also be opening yourself up to further litigation in the future. For example, let’s say that you ignore such behavior with a violent employee and eventually that behavior escalates into physical harm to another employee or customer of yours. All it would take is for a crafty attorney to prove that the offender had a history of violent behavior and that you, the dealer, permitted it. It’s your business and you are responsible for the actions of your employees.
Besides having a strong dealership policy that addresses workplace violence, and not ignoring such behavior, there are a few other things that you can do to limit your risk and liability. Below are some suggestions:
- According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) there are certain signs that you can look for in potential problem employees. Look for small outbursts of violence such as punching walls, slamming or throwing things, or making verbal statements such as “I can’t wait to get you alone.” These types of behaviors have the potential of escalating into behaviors that are more violent in nature.
- Also according to SHRM, ex-employees of the dealership will be in contact with current employees via social media. The suggestion here is to take threats made via social media seriously and to take action. Monitor those networks and report threats made to the police.
- Another recommendation to prevent workplace violence is performing background and reference checks on potential employees. It is getting harder and harder to do background checks prior to the first interview in many areas due to “ban-the-box” laws. Ban-the-box laws state that you cannot ask about criminal history prior to the first interview. It is in your dealership’s best interest to always do background and reference checks as preventative measures.
- It is strongly recommended that you perform regular training to your dealership staff on workplace violence. Employee violence training can be obtained in many formats such as live training or online training.
- If you find yourself having to confront a violent employee the suggestion here is to contact the police and remain calm in all matters. Aggressively engaging with the violent employee could possibly escalate the issue into further violence.
- When you do have issues regarding workplace violence make sure you always document such issues and behaviors. By addressing issues in real time and properly documenting the issues you are again doing the best that you can do to provide a safe work environment for your staff and as well reducing your dealership’s legal risk.
What happened in Virginia last month was a complicated and tragic issue from a human resource perspective. Two people were killed, one was wounded and millions were stunned. Not all workplace violence can be prevented, but we owe it to our employees and customers to do what we can to keep them safe. Do not ignore workplace violence issues because it could cost you your dealership — and someone’s life.
Forrest Flinn, MBA, PHR, SMS has been in the motorcycle industry for nearly 20 years and has been a true student and leader serving in various capacities. He previously worked as an implementation consultant for Lightspeed and as a general manager with P&L responsibility for a large metro multi-line dealership. Currently Forrest is the managing partner and chief visionary for a consulting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting, human resources, social media strategy, dealership operations consulting and Lightspeed/EVO training.