In most cases of workplace violence, perpetrators rarely make direct threats about their plans to take violent action. But the good news is that certain behaviors should cause concern and raise red flags that violent behavior might happen in the future. As a threat assessment expert, I train company workforces on the concerning behaviors that their colleagues are exhibiting that could lead to violence in the workplace. These training sessions help employees know which behaviors to look for and, more importantly, what to do if they observe them. Unfortunately, when employees are not educated on these signs, they don’t report the behavior to security or law enforcement.
Reporting Red Flags When Clearances Are Held Requires a Cultural Change
The issue of underreporting warning signs of workplace violence can be even more problematic with companies or government agencies whose personnel possess security clearances. Why? Unfortunately, these employees may be culturally reluctant to self-report workplace violence warning signs such as depression, suicide or being a victim of domestic abuse out of fear of losing their security clearance or termination. But as I’ve seen in the numerous corporations that are proactive in developing workplace violence prevention programs, its success relies on comprehensive assistance to help employees with their problems — through counseling, treatment or other early intervention. The goal of workplace violence prevention programs should be to help employees restore acceptable behavior or, if unsuccessful, to remove them from the workforce before they do harm.
This cultural reluctance to report concerning behaviors as security clearance violations is at odds with a typical requirement of reporting adverse information that reflects on the integrity of an employee. Adverse information gathered on an employee implies that they would not be eligible to hold a clearance.
Employee Assistance Programs Are Underutilized
As we conduct workplace violence needs assessments throughout the public and private sectors, we have found a low employee referral rate to employee assistance programs (EAP) when strict adherence to reporting security clearance violations is emphasized over employee wellness and workplace violence prevention programs.
Even a workplace safety agency such as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) has a General Duty Clause that requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers. Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited. This policy, and others like it, encourages employees to report concerning behaviors.
Companies and government agencies must clarify that the ultimate goal of the workplace violence prevention program is not punitive in nature, but rather, designed to support an effective and caring work environment by identifying individuals who may be in distress and minimizing any risk they may pose to themselves or others. Societal issues such as depression, disgruntlement, domestic abuse and substance abuse may be warning signs of workplace violence, but do not necessarily mean the person in question is a national security threat, requiring a termination. These societal issues require mechanisms such as an interdisciplinary threat management team to provide intervention and compassion.
Encouraging a culture of awareness that concerning warning signs of behaviors in most cases will not rise to a level of dismissal and delineating these policies from national security concerns regarding clearances will clarify the preventive approach to workplace violence and ultimately save lives.