Help Wanted: Potential workplace violence

"When there is a conflict in the workplace, "When there is a conflict in the workplace, supervisors should be notified and the incidents documented," said Sgt. Colleen Cooney, a Suffolk County Police Department spokeswoman. "Human resources should take an active role in resolving the conflict." Photo Credit: iStock

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Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues. ...

DEAR CARRIE: I work for a small company where poor behavior tends to be ignored rather than dealt with. A case in point is an employee I supervise. She told another employee she was "going to get rid of me" and take over the department. That employee was so upset she came to me the next day to urge me to be careful. The menacing employee has also had run-ins with other managers and co-workers.

Some employees are concerned she might snap and bring a gun to work, and that is a scary thought because we have no security officers or locked doors. I involved our human resources manager, who said he had to speak to the owner before doing anything.

But the owner does not work full time, and HR has had some delay in contacting him. In the interim, nothing is being done.

I want the employee banned from the building because I am losing sleep over this. Should I file a police report now or wait to see what the owner does? -- Scared at Work

DEAR SCARED: You're right to keep up the pressure until you get the issue resolved.

For advice I turned to the Suffolk County Police Department and to a Centerport-based trauma psychologist who has written about trauma and violence.

You did the right thing, according to the police department, and it's now HR's responsibility to follow up.

"When there is a conflict in the workplace, supervisors should be notified and the incidents documented," said Sgt. Colleen Cooney, a department spokeswoman. "Human resources should take an active role in resolving the conflict."

If HR doesn't act soon enough, then you may want to seek legal expertise or go to the police.

"The offended party always has the option of consulting a private attorney," Cooney said. "However, if ever someone's safety is threatened, they should immediately contact police."

Elizabeth Carll, the trauma psychologist, said it is difficult to predict workplace violence, though a number of factors make it likely.

"There are a number of risk factors," she said, "a combination of which can increase the risk, such as a history of violence of the individual, substance abuse problems, access to weapons, impulsive behavior and tendency to blame others.

That's certainly something that HR should explore or refer to appropriate professionals.

Companies run tremendous risks when they don't defuse potentially violent situations. Damaging morale is one of those risks.

"Aside from the liability and safety consequences for ignoring threats of violence in the workplace," Carll said, "these types of situations create anxiety and fear among employees and can lead to employees eventually leaving a company, and difficulty in hiring new personnel."

And a slow response could hurt the business itself.

"Should an unfortunate incident occur," she said, "it will not only impact the health and welfare of the employees, but the bottom line of the company with potential damage to the organization's reputation, and financial losses after a violent incident."

DEAR CARRIE: What are the Labor Department's rules regarding breaks? Whether I work three hours or five hours, my employer gives me just a 10-minute break. I don't think that is correct. -- Bad Break?

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DEAR BAD BREAK: Actually, your employer is providing you more than the law requires. Employers in New York State don't have to provide rest breaks. They must, however, give employees a meal break of at least a half-hour when they work more than six hours a day.

For more on employers' responsibilities to prevent workplace violence go to http://1.usa.gov/14WzSf7. For more on state labor law and breaks go to http://bit.ly/16qTgPy

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