HR Management & Compliance

Eight Tips for Meeting with a Potentially Violent Employee

There’s going to come a time when you have to meet with a person who you think might be violent or react violently. In today’s Advisor, attorney Robert Bettac’s tips, plus an introduction to a unique one-stop solution for HR problems.

Bettac’s tips came at BLR’s National Employment Law Update, held recently in Las Vegas. Bettac, a partner with law firm Ogletree Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., in San Antonio, was joined in his presentation by Anthony Martin, of the firm’s Las Vegas office.

 When meeting with a potentially violent person, says Bettac:

  • Let others know when and where you are meeting
  • Have a piece of furniture between you and the person you are diffusing—it helps to keep clear boundaries
  • Situate yourself so you don’t have to touch the subject accidentally in order to leave—he or she will see it as an aggressive move.
  • Meet the person away from his peer group (violent people tend to act out in front of their peers
  • Take care with clothing
    • Men: tuck in your ties so the person cannot grab it
    • Women: no heavy or thick necklaces or dangling earrings to grab
  • Learn words and phrases that help (you want the bad guy to feel aligned with you):
    • Us, We, Ours:
    • Let’s …
    • How About?
    • What Do You Think About This?
    • Is It Possible That?
    • Ask Questions
  • Use helpful body language
    • Facing (not challenging but squared up)
    • Arms extended slightly outward and upward (suggesting open and willing to work together, not needing to be in charge)
  • Avoid negative body language:
    • Arms crossed (I am bored, I already made up my mind)
    • Hands in pockets, behind back (suggests being sneaky or evasive)

Finally, says Bettac,  make no sudden moves.


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Crisis Management Team

The first step in combating violence is the creation of a crisis management team (CMT), usually comprised of representatives of HR, risk management, legal, security, and management, says Bettac. Its primary duties are:

  • Program development and administration
  • Developing policies and procedures
  • Conducting information campaign
  • Making threat assessment
  • Coaching managers/supervisors on workplace violence threats/incidents
  • Serving as liaison to outside agencies (police, therapists, advisors)
  • Being part of trauma response
  • Acting as a resource

Thorough Applicant Screening

The first level of defense against violence is to weed out potentially violent employees through the applicant screening process, Bettac said. He recommends:

  • Testing and Background Screening
    • Resume verification & analysis
    • Background checks (but beware  of FCRA)
    • Medical & psychological testing (subject to ADA scrutiny)
  • Interviewing
    • Ask questions that will elicit signs of a propensity for violence
    • “Tell me about supervisors you liked or disliked and why.”

Audit Security Procedures

Do routine on-site audits of your security, says Bettac, including:

  • Locks, lighting, landscaping
  • Electronic access control system
  • Alarm systems, metal detectors, video cameras
  • Access control policies for vendors and visitors
  • Signing in/out, identification badges, escorts

Also consider arranging escorts for employees concerned about walking into parking lots, and locking reception areas to prevent entry into the building.

Avoiding workplace violence—certainly an HR priority, but increasingly a challenge, what with changes in the laws, stretched budgets, over-worked people. And, of course, avoiding violence is just one of what, a couple of dozen recurring challenges you face? What about FMLA intermittent leave, overtime, ADA accommodation, and sexual harassment, to name just a few?

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E-mail review. All e-mail is subject to review by management. Your use of the e-mail system grants consent to the review of any of the messages to or from you in the system in printed form or in any other medium.


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