Editor’s Note: This is part of a continuing dialogue about the nature of bigotry today. This column was written by Freeline Media correspondent Vikki Hankins.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention and Response defines violence in the office or workplace as any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior. There are a number of different actions in the work environment that can trigger or cause workplace violence; the one that may be the most obvious is when one loses their job.
In 2006, Ralph Hill — a corrections officer at Florida Correctional Institute-Tallahassee — opened fire when federal agents tried to arrest him and other officers on charges of trading drugs for sex, resulting in the death of a federal agent and Hill himself. Three years prior to this incident, Lt. Garry L. Jones wrote a memo warning the federal prison’s warden that “If they continued to investigate/arrest corrupt black officers, while allowing corrupt white officers to escape punishment, one day someone was going to come to work shooting and killing people.”
Due to his sending this memo and asking administration to change the biased pattern of investigating corruption, Jones was charged with threatening another staff member, but his warning was not without merit – people were killed and wounded at this prison.
In 2009 in Orlando, after killing one person and wounding five in a shooting at a business he’d once worked at, Jason Rodriguez, a former employee of Reynolds Smith & Hills, said, “I’m just going through a tough time right now, I’m sorry.”
Rodriguez was hired as a “beginning engineer” at the architectural and engineering firm, and was let go two years before the shooting. Unemployed for a year and a half, he finally found work at a Subway restaurant, but there weren’t enough hours for him to make ends meet, which led him to seek unemployment benefits. Rodriguez may have felt he had been forced into a situation where he couldn’t provide for his family.
These are not isolated incidents. According to the U.S. Department of Labor–Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2008 a total of 526 workplace homicides occurred, or 10 percent of all fatal work injuries. Shootings accounted for 80 percent of all homicides in 2008 (421 fatal injuries). Co-workers and former co-workers were the assailants in 12 percent of all shootings.”
There are various reasons why these types of extreme acts of violence occur in the workplace from former employees, but what about incidents where the employers’ exact acts of violence upon the employees? We are living in tough economic times; people are living paycheck to paycheck trying to feed their families. Unfortunately, there are employers that take advantage of this and abuse their authority as supervisors and managers.
I’ve worked at local businesses where, behind the scenes, I’ve watched management use violent, threatening tactics to ensure employees give great service to the guest so they’ll make a return visit.
I watched the company ramp up the service for one the guest in sad ways: a Hispanic server was grabbed by her face, threatened and reduced to tears by the general manager in front of her co-workers. In yet another incident, a server was cursed out like a thug on a street corner, forcing her to run to the restroom to regroup before taking the orders of waiting guests.
Oftentimes supervisors and managers are aware of the fact that employees will take the physical and mental abuse for fear of losing their job. Granted, jobs are hard to find … but one should not be forced to submit to workplace violence from managers and supervisors.
The following are warning indicators of potential workplace violence from the USDA Handbook:
• Intimidating, harassing, bullying, belligerent, or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior.
• Numerous conflicts with customers, co-workers, or supervisors.
• Bringing a weapon to the workplace (unless necessary for the job), making inappropriate references to guns, or making idle threats about using a weapon to harm someone.
• Statements showing fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem, or statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides.
• Statements indicating desperation (over family, financial, and other personal problems) to the point of contemplating suicide.
• Direct or veiled threats of harm.
• Substance abuse.
• Extreme changes in normal behaviors.
Life can be filled with immeasurable stress and pressure on both employees and employers alike. But resorting to murder and violence is certainly not the solution. Here are a few more suggestions from the USDA Handbook on how to cope with this situation:
•Awareness/Training: Training is necessary for employees and supervisors.
•Threat Assessment: Determining the seriousness of a potentially violent or stressful situation and how to best intervene.
Members of a threat assessment team should include representatives from management, employee relations, an Employee Assistance Program, and security.
For more information on Workplace Violence Handbook go to http://www.usda.gov/news/pubs/violence/wpv.htm#three.
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