Reducing the Risks of Workplace Violence: An Interview with Maria Greco Danaher

By Desda Moss May 6, 2015

Danaher_Maria.jpgIn 2013, 9 percent of all workplace deaths were classified as homicides. Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of workplace homicides didn’t have anything to do with the workplace at all. For instance, the death(s) may have been a consequence of an armed robbery.  Moreover, 27 percent of all violent incidents in the workplace are tied to domestic violence.

With 1 out of every 6 fatal work injuries in 2013 caused by violence, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers and HR departments need to be proactive in minimizing the risk of workplace violence.

Today, HR Magazine’s Book Blog interviews Maria Greco Danaher, author of the newly published Give Your Company a Fighting Chance: An HR Guide to Understanding and Preventing Workplace Violence—which is a resource written for HR professionals and provides sobering and actionable guidance to dealing with this problem.

Q: Why did you write this book?

MGD: The more we understand about the reasons for, progression of, and ways to address workplace violence, the better chance employers have of protecting their employees against it, or preventing it altogether. My martial arts training—which emphasizes awareness and self-defense, as opposed to offensive attacks—was a great starting point.

Q: What are the most important things you would like HR professionals to get out of reading your book?

MGD: First, the book will tell HR professionals and business leaders how to effectively handle dispute resolution at an “early” stage, so as to avoid escalation into violent confrontation; and second, the book shows how to cooperate with outside resources to construct a mechanism for preventing workplace violence, as well as a team approach for dealing with violent issues that may arise.

Q: What should HR leaders and people managers do to proactively reduce the risk of workplace violence?

MGD: Become aware of local and regional law enforcement and social resources that could:

  • Assist in building a Workplace Violence Response Team.
  • Help train supervisors and managers to understand the legal responsibilities of employers, including the OSHA “general duties” clause, and state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
  • Inform employees about the early stages of “violence,” which could include personal insults and the use of offensive nicknames, nonverbal threatening gestures, and other non-physical instances that, without preventive action, could lead to more serious incidents.

Q: Has the nature of the violence changed, if so, how?

MGD: The most obvious change has been the addition of electronic media to the mix, with both positive and negative ramifications. First, it allows an element of anonymity to verbal attacks and cyber-bullying, which has led to an increase in both. It also—unfortunately—allows people to view more violence from a less involved perspective, which seems to be dulling reaction to these incidents as they become more and more prevalent on media and social media. On the up-side, it has allowed broader and faster dissemination of information about bullying, about workplace violence generally, and about a team approach to violence prevention.

Q: You discuss the emerging nationwide trend to “ban the box.” What is it? What are the short- and long-term workplace policies employers should consider when responding to this effort?

MGD: “Ban-the-box” legislation is gaining traction in various states and municipalities. Those laws typically preclude employers from asking for prior criminal convictions until after an initial interview (which effectively bans the “box”) on some applications that say “check this box if you’ve been convicted of a crime in the past.” The challenge here is for employers to assure that any eventual review or use of prior convictions is related to legitimate business necessity, while continuing to assure workplace safety.

Q: Is this your first book? What was the experience like?

MGD: While I do a good bit of writing and presenting, both for the firm’s blog and my own blog, putting a book together was a little more daunting than a quick blog post. However, it sure feels good to see it on my bookshelf—I’m looking forward to doing another!
Maria Greco Danaher is a shareholder in the Pittsburgh office of Ogletree Deakins law firm. She specializes in representing management in labor relations and employment litigation, and in training, counseling, and advising human resource departments and corporate management on these topics. Danaher has been awarded the highest rating by Martindale-Hubbell and has been listed on Best Lawyer in America every year since 2007.​​

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