Sadly, the recent mass shooting by a disgruntled employee at a FedEx sorting facility in Georgia reminded the U.S. of the disturbing fact that the number of public shootings has been on the rise over the past several years. As with the FedEx tragedy, some of those public shootings have involved disgruntled employees violently attacking co-workers in the workplace.
Some security experts advise employers to implement and routinely practice “active shooter” plans. The Department of Homeland Security published a manual, Active Shooter: How to Respond, in 2008. In addition to providing guidance on how to respond once an active shooter is on the premises, the manual advises employers to take measures to be aware of indications of workplace violence such as conducting effective employee screening and creating a system for reporting signs of potentially violent behavior. DHS also advises employers to foster a respectful workplace.
A Workplace Bullying Survey released in February 2014 shows that over 25% of the respondents believe they have suffered workplace bullying. As the survey notes, 72% of respondents believed the employer failed to appropriately react to workplace bullying even though 68% of C-level executives considered it a serious problem. It is a serious problem—made all the more difficult by the pervasiveness of mobile smart devices and social media in today’s culture. “Cyber-bullying” has now become a familiar addition to the collective lexicon.
But taking steps to stem workplace bullying by fostering a respectful workplace requires careful coordination. Two recent NLRB decisions demonstrate the problems facing employers. In Hills and Dales General Hospital, the NLRB limited employers’ ability to prohibit negativity and gossip in the workplace. Likewise, earlier this month the NLRB further limited employers’ ability to control access to the workplace by off-duty employees. And the NLRB and courts remain keenly focused on the manner in which employers may monitor employees’ social media posts.
The key for employers to remember is that angry, disgruntled workers can happen anywhere. Comprehensive, thoughtful policies and consistent, fair implementation are critical to creating a respectful workplace. While the lines are blurry as to permissible limits of employer monitoring of employee civility, employers clearly are entitled to appropriately investigate and respond to claims of workplace bullying. Vigilantly doing so may help create that respectful workplace culture and may allow for thorough assessment of the potential for future workplace violence by involved employees.