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Source: BOXOFFICE, July 2002

- Part I -

By David J. Bowman, Human Resources Expert

It seems society is becoming more litigious each day. Lawsuits can hit any company, including a movie theatre, for any number of reasons and from many sources. But there are ways to limit – and even avoid – this problem.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has directed that employers provide a “safe and healthful workplace.” This means, among other things, one that’s free from a number of problems and issues. When this rule is ignored, litigation may likely follow.

The principle sources for workplace litigation are violence (from both without and within the exhibitor organization); sexual harassment of employees, vendors and customers; age, sex and racial discrimination; and workplace safety factors. Each of these sources will be examined in future issues of this magazine and will offer exhibitors suggestions on how to prevent these sources from being a cause for litigation. In this essay, the topic is workplace violence.

Workplace Violence
On average, about 1,000 Americans are murdered in the workplace each year – that’s about 3 each day. Two million physical attacks occur, and another six million workers are threatened annually. Murder is the third leading cause of occupational death in the U.S. Because a business could be found not to have provided a “safe and healthful workplace” when murder or other violence occurs, violence must be considered a major source of potential litigation for exhibitors.

There are three types of workplace violence generally recognized throughout North America. Type I violence involves an individual who has no official connection to the workplace, but enters it to commit a violent act – say, a robber after a nights’ ticket receipts – and kills or injures someone while there. Type II involves an assault or threat by someone who’s either the recipient or the object of a service by the potential workplace or victim – say, a disgruntled moviegoer. Type III involves an assault or threat by an individual with an employment relation to the workplace – perhaps a current or former employee with a grudge, or a relative or lover or spouse of an employee.

Given the public nature of a movie theatre, exhibitors and their employees are exposed to any of these types of violence. And, along with the just concern about litigation, there’s also the trauma, sorrow and hardship suffered by the victim and his or her family to consider.

So it’s vital exhibitors have workplace violence prevention policies in place, and train employees to be constantly aware of the profile of a likely perpetrator, as well as to know what to do when someone showing these behaviors is spotted.

Perpetrator Profiles
Type I perpetrator behaviors might include dressing strangely, looking agitated or nervous, or carrying a weapon of any kind.

Type II behaviors might be incident-based. For example, perhaps a moviegoer had earlier complained about concessions or the film, but left the theatre without receiving what he or she believes was a satisfactory response, and now has returned.

Type III behaviors could be more easily spotted, because the person is likely to have a longer history with the movie theatre. Often, although not exclusively, this individual will be a middle-aged male who is a “loner,” with few or no supportive relationships. There may be a history of job migration, grievances, work performance problems, resentment of authority, depression (including being withdrawn and perhaps even paranoid or suicidal), tardiness/absenteeism, violence and/or substance abuse. Perhaps there have been “people” problems – attitudes including self-righteousness, “I’m entitled,” “the boss is a jerk,” holding grudges, extremist opinions and stormy personal relationships (often aggressively threatened others). There could be multiple life stresses, talk of weapons, and attempts at making unwelcome contact with others.

In my next column, I’ll discuss how to create employee “awareness” so that they can spot potential perpetrators and prevent them from engaging in violence – and thus avoid potential exhibitor litigation for not providing a “safe and healthful workplace.”

David J. Bowman is chairman of TTG Consultants/Lincolnshire, a Los Angeles human capital consulting firm specializing in corporate and individual change. He has written several books, audio-based training series and articles on maximizing human potential in the workplace, and he has taught at UCLA for more than 12 years. His e-mail is


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