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Root out violent applicants by asking right questions

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in Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Preventing Workplace Violence

Sept. 11 put a new kind of workplace violence on the radar screen, but the threat of verbal and physical attacks by co-workers, customers and spouses is still just as pressing as the threat from terrorists.

Latest example: In March, a shipping worker went on a shooting rampage and killed four co-workers at the Indiana aircraft parts plant where he worked for 26 years. The company had no inkling of the coming violence.

The facts: Nearly 1,000 workers are murdered each year and 1.5 million are assaulted on the job. According to a recent American Management Association survey of 600 HR professionals, the top four violent incidents that occur on the job involve interaction between:

1. Employee and employee.

2. Employee and supervisor.

3. Customer and employee.

4. Employee and spouse or significant other.

Legal action on the rise

Think your risk of a lawsuit is tiny? Think again. Workplace violence litigation has dramatically increased in recent years, according to the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs, Calif.

Recent awards include $5.2 million paid to a supervisor shot by a fired employee and a $5.5 million judgment against a temp agency that didn't adequately screen an employee who stabbed a co-worker at a client's company. With the average out-of-court settlements in violence cases now reaching $500,000 and the average jury award at $3 million, it makes good business sense to avoid litigation.

Where's your risk? Legal action often centers on four issues:

  • Negligent hiring, or failing to screen employees properly, resulting in hiring someone the courts could say had a history of violent and criminal acts.
  • Negligent retention, or keeping an employee after the company be-comes aware of his violent behavior.
  • Negligent supervision, or failing to make sure employees do their jobs safely and legally.
  • Inadequate security, or failing to protect employees, customers and the public.

Cut liability with firm policy

Courts will look more favorably on employers that have strict violence-prevention policies, take appropriate steps to enforce compliance and act promptly to detect and prevent threats.

One of the best ways to cut your risk: Rigorously screen out potentially violent staffers before they're hired. Verify everything on resumes and applications.

Next, talk to job applicants' references. The problem here: Many employers now use a "verification only" policy of providing just the ex-worker's title, length of employment and salary. Reason: Employees may sue for defamation. Or companies requesting the information may sue, claiming they got a misleading reference.

Go off the record to probe

To cope with no-reference policies, ask questions off the record.

According to industry surveys and online discussion groups, many HR professionals honor such requests as a matter of professional courtesy. Few employers are willing to pass along a violent offender without providing some clue.

Some companies employ a two-tiered policy. They give references for good employees and "verify only" answers for the others. If you receive verification only, ask if that is the standard policy for all references, both good and bad. If not, think twice about hiring the person.

Also, know your state law. Some protect employers who give good-faith information that's part of the employment record, as long as there's no malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

If you can talk with a reference, ask how the candidate rated on getting along with co-workers. Was he ever disciplined for fighting or abusive language? What are his strongest and weakest personal attributes? Would the company rehire him? Ask if there's something you should know that you don't. Listen carefully for an unspoken message, pause or word-shading.

Consider anti-violence training

More companies are using Web-based tools to train employees about anti-violence policies and procedures. Reason: It's cheaper and more con-venient than classroom sessions. Employees learn at their own pace, and you may get a break on insurance rates.

Check these sources: www.workplace-violence-hq.com, www.hrtools.com, www.trainingonline.com and www.onlinestore.cch.com/productpages/hr.

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