I fear workplace violence, but also getting fired if I complain. Suggestions?

Question: I am very fearful of another employee who was recently discharged from a mental hospital, who has openly stated how much he hates and despises me.

In his job, he handles sharp instruments each day, all day long, which makes me nervous about being anywhere near him.

Management has allowed this to happen even though he exhibited the same behaviors before he was committed to the mental hospital.

I need my job. What do I do?

Spotsylvania, Virginia

Answer: Dear Cheryl: Fear is a debilitating and damaging emotion, and can even cause loss of health. Fear of violence – and particularly workplace violence –  is an increasing problem, worldwide. Here are my thoughts:

1. Your first consideration – before anything else – must be concern for your safety; nothing is more important. No matter what the chances may be that you will suffer a violent act, you have reason to believe that your chances are elevated by the actions, statements and history of your co-worker, and that is not right.

I acknowledge your fear of losing your job, and I acknowledge the fear you may have of being without a job, and all that comes with being unemployed. But those fears are secondary – at best – to your reasonable fear that you may be harmed by an act of violence at work. Once harmed, there is no going back in time; you don’t get a second chance once violence has taken place.

2. Second – employers are now almost everywhere legally required to provide safe workplaces for their employees, under federal – and many state – workplace safety laws. Don’t think you are being too sensitive, or too worried – than is justified. And don’t think you are alone in this, because you are not. Unfortunately, there has been an increase worldwide in people being intentionally harmed at work by the violent acts of their coworkers.

The U.S. government, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) now requires that employers address safety concerns like yours, as do an increasing number of states and local workplace safety agencies. Many countries have, in fact, acted faster than has the U.S. government in placing workplace safety obligations upon the shoulders of employers.

Simply put, you have every reason to need protection from workplace violence, every right to demand protection from potential violence, and your employer has every legal obligation to ensure you get that protection. Period.

3. A written request/demand for protection from workplace violence is truly needed, and most effective. I am a firm believer, and I don’t think I will ever change my mind, that important communications – and this is surely one of those – must be in writing, and sent by a verifiable means, namely email. When you put things into writing, everyone is clear and certain (a) what you said, (b) how you said it, (c) to whom you said it, and (d) when you said it.

Making your request for protective measures in written form actually works to prevent the employer retaliation you fear, as well as the possibility that your colleague will retaliate, as well. This is because, as a general rule, people will not do “bad” things if they are confident that “bad” things will then be done to them in return. Or, as my mother taught me, “When people feel they will be held accountable, they are more likely to be responsible.”

In any request for protection from workplace violence, you should note your fear of retaliation – either by your colleague or management, because, that too acts to deter retaliation.

For those like yourself who have fear of workplace violence, we offer a Model Memo to Your Employer Insisting on Protection from Workplace Violence.  It can help you get the protection you need. “What to Say and How to Say It.  To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

4. You may also want to alert the local police precinct of your concern and request for protection. In my experience, it has always been beneficial for my clients who fear workplace violence to file a report of concern at the local police precinct. Either the Precinct Commander will send an Officer over to speak with the business owner, or at the very least, you can give your boss a Police Report Number to show him or her that you are quite serious about protecting yourself. If an incident later does take place, (a) the Police will know exactly “who is who, and what is what,” and your employer will have no excuse for not having acted appropriately. Who knows? Your tormenter may just fear the Police, and learn to control himself or herself as a result.

5. Having a written “record” of your concerns and fears, the many good reasons for them, your Police Report and your request to your employer, can only help you obtain the many advantages and benefits of the concept we invented called “involuntary resignation.” Sure, sure, the two words that make up the phrase “involuntary resignation” seem inconsistent with one another. However, if you do decide to leave, by giving your employer an expressly “involuntary resignation,” which sets forth the facts, events and circumstances underlying the reason you had no choice but to leave – and the fact that it was not what you really wanted to do – you (i) preserve your right to receive unemployment benefits, (b) preserve your right to receive severance, (c) preserve your right to sue your employer for any damages, (d) if applicable, preserve your right to collect deferred compensation or unvested equity, and (e) provide your next employer or the employer after that with a good, sound, documented reason for your departure.

If you would like to obtain a Model “Involuntary Resignation” Letter for your adaptation with your own facts, events and circumstances – but that still provides “What to Say, and How to Say It,”™ – just [ click here. ]

For these reasons, always remember to keep copies of letters, memos, emails and other materials that may serve to support your concerns, your fears, and your attempts to resolve the situation.  The truth is the truth, and is always on the side of honest people.

6. But, in the end, it all goes back to dealing with your fears . . . Cheryl, fear is the first emotion, and the most basic of human instincts. It is deeply related – some even say rooted – in our innate desire to go on living. For most people, I sometimes think, it is the “default” emotion, that people go back to almost invariably, unless there exists a reason not to fear.

I spend a lot of time pondering why people have fears, the effects of fear on people, and how people might overcome their fears. I could write a million words about the subject of fear, but I don’t think it would help you. Perhaps this one thought might at least help: If you don’t protect yourself, you may not be available to help those you love, such as your children, your spouse or life partner, your parents, brothers and sisters, or good friends. Many people need to think about “other fears,” including the fear of being unable to help those they love, in order to block out the fears that lie directly “in front of them.”

Think of the person you love the most in the entire world, and that person being helpless, frightened, perhaps in pain, and his or her looking to you for help, and your not being able to help. If you don’t help yourself in this position of potential victimhood by workplace violence, you may be unable to help the ones you love when they really need you to. Give it some thought. It is remarkable that, for so many people, it is their love for others that enables them to show the courage to demand safety for themselves, and thus prods them into standing up for themselves.

Cheryl, I hope this has been helpful to you. I really, really do.

My Best to You,
Al Sklover

P.S.: You might be interested in our New Employment Negotiation Checklist for potential “rewards, risk-limiters, and role-enhancers” to consider requesting from your new employer. To obtain copy, just [ click here ]. Delivered by Email – Instantly!

©  2013 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.