Source: BOXOFFICE, November 2002
AVOIDING WORKPLACE LITIGATION
- Part II -
By David J. Bowman, Human Resources Expert
In my last essay (July 2002 issue), I discussed the many sources of workplace litigation, violence being one of them. I described the three types of violence movie theatre owners might experience, and the typical behaviors that perpetrators exhibit. In this essay, I'll discuss how workplace violence - and resulting litigation - can be prevented.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as many state laws, mandate that all employers provide a "safe and healthful workplace." A key element in creating such conditions is the prevention of workplace violence. This requires the installation of security equipment and procedures, as well as the training of employees to recognize a potential violent perpetrator in order to help stop him or her from committin workplace violence. Without implementing these precautions, a violent incident could cause serious litigation for an employer - from federal, state and local governments, as well as individuals.
A video surveillance system with continuous tape recording capability is very important, and the system should be installed throughout the theatre. A trained employee should watch the various screens during all hours of theatre operation. When this person takes a break, a stand-in must be designated. Also, metal detectors with alarms should be installed at all entrances - even those used only by employees.
Additionally, the management office should be locked at all times, and the entrance door should contain a one-way glass window. And a second entrance to this office is an excellent precaution, in case one exit is blocked by an incident. For cash and other valuables, a "drop safe" hidden in the office floor is a good prevention measure. A bullet-proof see-through window at the box office is a must. Adequate lighting is very important, should an incident occur in the theatre and bright lights are needed to find a perpetrator, victims and/or evidence. Of course, don't forget to provide bright lighting in parking lots.
A first line of defense against workplace violence is thorough interviewing and reference checking of all employees. Inquire about past incidents of violence, check for criminal history, and do drug screening. Always use an application form containing a "verification waiver and release" (obtained from a labor attorney). Indicate that all desks, lockers, file cabinets, etc. are company property and are subject ot inspection at all times.
Of course, it must be emphasized that all weapons are prohibited in the workplace - including guns, knives, ammunition and explosives - and that possessing such will result in termination. This prohibition should be included in your employee handbook or in a policies and procedures manual.
Critical for surviving a violent incident are crisis management procedures that deal with it quickly. There must be a crisis chain of command that is trained and rehearsed in each person's duties. Issues include who contacts authorities (such as police and fire) and where to do it; who deals with the media, releases information about the incident, contacts families, and disburses information about benefits and trauma care; and who manages repairs and continues operations.
Another important safeguard is to limit theatre access for former employees, any one of whom might have reason to commit a violent act against management or current employees. Additionally, show sensitivity in employee terminations. If theatre owners show they care by giving a fair severance and job-search assistance, fired individuals are less likely to come back with an AK-47 and an "I'm gonna get 'em" attitude. Of course, always ensure the retrieval of all keys and ID cards, and de-activate entrance and computer access codes.
All employees must be trained to recognize and report any behavior - from either a moviegoer or an employee - that matches the typical profile of a violence perpetrator. If a patron, this could be someone who is strangely dressed and/or extremely nervous - quickly looking from side to side, seeking unwelcome contact with others, using threats with others, or trying to hide possible weapons under clothing. If it's an employee, it could be one who has a history of violence and/or substance abuse, people problems, knowledge of weapons and explosives, multiple life stresses, few supportive relationships, stormy associations, grudges and extremist opinions, a sense of entitlement and self-righteousness, frequent tardiness or absence, and a resentment of authority.
Another precaution is to train employees in conflict resolution methods. This can be particularly useful when disgruntled patrons make demands, the non-resolution of which could result in violence. It's extremely important that employee security training be on-going - in both formal training sessions and in periodic staff meetings. This training can possibly stop a terrible incident before it occurs.
With these precautions in place, theatre owners will help provide a "safe and more healthful workplace" - and thus lessen the potential of a violent attack, with its ensuing litigation. In my next esay, I'll discuss the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace - another key source of litigation.
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