Workplace Violence and the University Community
Workplace or occupational violence has become an increasingly serious problem throughout all segments of our society. Because of their sheer size and the number of persons within the university community, colleges and universities are not immune to the problem of workplace violence.
About 2 million workers are victims of workplace violence each year. The Bureau of Labor statistics records over 600 homicides in workplaces in the United States each year. Homicide is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries for all workers and the second leading cause of fatal occupational injuries for women.
Four categories of workplace violence:
Criminal Intent (Type I): The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees, and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, and trespassing. The vast majority of workplace homicides (85%) fall into this category.
In Type I incidents:
- The perpetrator does not have any legitimate business relationship with the establishment;
- The primary motive is usually theft;
- A deadly weapon is often involved, increasing the risk of fatal injury;
- Workers who exchange cash with customers as part of the job, work late night hours, and/or work alone are at greatest risk.
Customer/Client (Type II): The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. This category includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, and any other group for which the business provides services. It is believed that a large proportion of customer/client incidents occur in the health care industry, in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities; the victims are often patient caregivers. Police officers, prison staff, flight attendants, and teachers are some other examples of workers who may be exposed to this kind of workplace violence. About 3% of workplace homicides fall into this category.
In Type II incidents:
- The perpetrator is a “customer” or a client of the worker;
- The violent act generally occurs in conjunction with the worker's normal duties;
- The risk of violence to some workers in this category (e.g., mental health workers, police) may be constant, even routine.
Worker-on-Worker (Type III): The perpetrator is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. Worker-on-worker fatalities account for approximately 7% of all workplace violence homicides.
In Type III incidents:
- The perpetrator is an employee or former employee;
- The motivating factor is often one or a series of interpersonal or work-related disputes.
Personal Relationship (Type IV): The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work.
Type IV violence:
- Is the spillover of domestic violence into the workplace;
- Generally refers to perpetrators who are not employees or former employees of the affected workplace;
- Targets women significantly more often than men, although both male and female co-workers and supervisors are often affected.
THREAT ASSESSMENT AND INTERVENTION
A “profile” or a checklist of danger signs pointing to the next person who will bring lethal violence to our campus does not exist. However, once a threat is made, having a fair, rational, and standardized method of evaluating and responding to threats is critically important. ( National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime)
When the incidence of any form of violence is very low and a very large number of people have identifiable risk factors, there is no reliable way to pick out from that large group the very few who will actually commit the violent act. Clues that appear to help interpret past events could not be taken as predictors of similar events in the future. There is no research that has identified traits and characteristics that can reliably distinguish violent offenders from others. However, when a person has shown signs of potential violent behavior, we have the capacity and responsibility to keep that potential from turning real.
Threat assessment seeks to make an informed judgment on two questions:
- How credible and serious is the threat itself?
- To what extent does the threatener appear to have the resources, intent, and motivation to carry out the threat?
What is a Threat?
A threat is an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something. A threat can be spoken, written, or symbolic.
Threat assessment rests on two critical principles: first, all threats and all threateners are not equal; second, most threateners are unlikely to carry out their threat. However, all threats must be taken seriously and evaluated.
In general, people do not switch instantly form nonviolence to violence. Nonviolent people do not “snap” or decide on the spur of the moment to meet a problem by using violence. Instead, the path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way. A threat is one observable behavior; others may be brooding about frustration or disappointment, fantasies of destruction or revenge, in conversations, writings, drawings, and other actions.
Types of Threats: direct, indirect, veiled, or conditional.
A direct threat identifies a specific act against a specific target and is delivered in a straightforward, clear, and explicit manner: “I am going to place a bomb in the Dean's office.”
An indirect threat tends to be vague, unclear, and ambiguous. The plan, the intended victim, the motivation, and other aspects of the threat are masked or equivocal: “If I wanted to, I could kill everyone at this school!” While violence is implied, the threat is phrased tentatively – “If I wanted to” – and suggests that a violent act COULD occur, not that it WILL occur.
A veiled threat is one that strongly implies but does not explicitly threaten violence. “We would be better off without you around anymore” clearly hints at a possible violent act, but leaves it to the potential victim to interpret the message and give a definite meaning to the threat.
A conditional threat is the type of threat often seen in extortion cases. It warns that a violent act will happen unless demands or terms are met: “If you don't pay me one million dollars, I will place a bomb in the school.”
Specific, plausible details are a critical factor in evaluating a threat. Details can include the identity of the victim or victims; the reason for making the threat; the means, weapon, and method by which it is to be carried out; the date, time, and place where the threatened act will occur; and concrete information about plans or preparations that have already been made.
Specific details can indicate that substantial thought, planning, and preparatory steps have already been taken, suggesting a higher risk that the threatener will follow through on his threat. Similarly, a lack of detail suggests the threatener may not have thought through all of the contingencies, has not actually taken steps to carry out the threat, and may not seriously intend violence but is “blowing off steam” over some frustration or seeking to frighten or intimidate a particular victim or disrupt an even or routine.
Details that are specific but not logical or plausible may indicate a less serious threat.
The emotional content of a threat can be an important clue to the threatener's mental state. Emotions are conveyed by melodramatic words and unusual punctuation – “I hate you!!!!”
Though emotionally charged threats can tell the assessor something about the temperament of the threatener, they are not a measure of danger. They may sound frightening, but no correlation has been established between the emotional intensity in a threat and the risk that it will be carried out.
Precipitating stressors are incidents, circumstances, reactions, or situation which can trigger a threat. The precipitating event may seem insignificant and have no direct relevance to the threat, but nonetheless becomes a catalyst.
The impact of a precipitating event will obviously depend on “pre-disposing factors” : underlying personality traits, characteristics, and temperament that predispose a person to fantasize about violence or act violently. Accordingly, information about a temporary “trigger” must be considered together with broader information about these underlying factors, such as a person's vulnerability to loss and depression.
Levels of Risk
Low Level of Threat: A threat which poses a minimal risk to the victim and public safety.
Threat is vague and indirect.
Information contained within the threat is inconsistent, implausible or lacks detail.
Threat lacks realism.
Content of the threat suggests person is unlikely to carry it out.
Medium Level of Threat: A threat which could be carried out, although it may not appear entirely realistic.
Threat is more direct and more concrete than a low level threat.
Wording in the threat suggests that the threatener has given some thought to how the act will be carried out.
There may be a general indication of a possible place and time (though these signs still fall well short of a detailed plan).
There is no strong indication that the threatener has taken preparatory steps, although there may be some veiled reference or ambiguous or inconclusive evidence pointing to that possibility – an illusion to a book or movie that shows the planning of a violent act, or a vague, general statement about the availability of weapons.
There may be a specific statement seeking to convey that the threat is not empty: “I'm serious!” or “I really mean this!”
High Level of Threat: A threat that appears to pose an imminent and serious danger to the safety of others.
Threat is direct, specific and plausible.
Threat suggests concrete steps have been taken toward carrying it out, for example, statements indicating that the threatener has acquired or practiced with a weapon or has had the victim under surveillance.
NCAVC's (National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime) experience in analyzing a wide range of threatening communications suggests that in general, the more direct and detailed a threat is, the more serious the risk of its being acted on. A threat that is assessed as high level will almost always require immediate law enforcement intervention.
Ways to Reduce the Potential of Workplace Violence
- Teach conflict resolution skills to employees - Teach employees how to recognize hostility or anger and steps or measures to diffuse the perceived hostility and aggression.
- Teach customer service orientation - Have a pro-active program directed toward customer service orientation; this may serve to diffuse a person's anger or hostility.
- Weapons on campus - The University of Missouri has a policy forbidding weapons of any kind on campus.
- Design of office facilities - Campus offices or facilities that serve employees, students, visitors and guests, and have a potential for violent behavior should have wide waist- to chest-high service counters that would make it difficult for the customer to physically contact the service representative.
- Student disciplinary process - Physical or verbal aggression toward employees by students should not be tolerated. Such behavior should not be acceptable. Students who demonstrate such behavior, but stop short of violations of criminal law that warrant prosecution, should be referred to the student disciplinary system.
- Inform employees of counseling and mediation services - Ensure that all employees are advised of available counseling and employee assistance programs that are available. Encourage employees to report incidents. When an employee has obtained an emergency protection order directed toward an estranged or recently divorced spouse, ex-boyfriend, family member, etc., The UMKC Police Department should be notified. The police department, in turn, will notify its officers of the order. Representatives of the department may meet with the person who has obtained the Order and his/her supervisor to help plan for contingencies.
- Non-harassment policy - A clearly written campus-wide policy has been developed that prohibits intimidation and harassment in the workplace. Employees should read this policy.
- Criminal Prosecution - Individuals can be charged with disorderly conduct, assault, and other acts of violence or threats of violence directed toward campus employees.
Nothing is more important to UMKC than the safety and security of its employees, students and visitors. Threats, threatening behavior, or acts of violence against employees, students, visitors, guests or other individuals by anyone on university property will not be tolerated. Violations of this policy and criminal law will lead to disciplinary action which may include dismissal, arrest and prosecution.
All university personnel are responsible for notifying their supervisor or manager of any threats they have witnesses, received, or have been told that another person has witnessed or received. Even without an actual threat, personnel should also report any behavior they have witnessed which they regard as threatening or violent when that behavior is job related or might be carried out on a university-controlled site, or is connected to university employment.
UMKC Police Department
General (816) 235- 1515
Human Resources Policy Manual
HR-517 Violence in the Workplace
The University of Missouri strives to provide a safe and secure work environment for all employees. Toward this end, intimidation, threats and acts of violence, with or without the presence of a weapon, will not be tolerated. Individuals found to engage in behavior in violation of this policy will be subject to discipline up to and including termination.
For purposes of this policy: 1) Workplace environment is defined as all University facilities or other locations where an employee is engaged in University business. 2) Employee is defined as faculty, staff and student employees. 3) Intimidation is defined as an act towards another person, the result of which could reasonably cause the other person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others. 4) Threats of violence are defined as a communicated intent to inflict physical or other harm to any person or to property. 5) Violence is defined as the deliberate and wrongful abuse or damage of other persons, self, or property.
Employees, who are the victims of violence, believe they may be the recipients of violence, or who have knowledge of potential violence against others, are encouraged to promptly notify an appropriate administrator, University police and/or Human Resources.