Background Screening May Help Prevent Workplace Violence

Background Screening May Help Prevent Workplace Violence

By Samantha Manchester

Workplace homicides have increased by 50% in 2012, according to Dr. Larry Barton, Ph.D., an expert in threat management and a faculty member at the FBI Academy. Barton calculates that on average, two people are murdered at work each workday in the United States (Bailey, 2013). According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, current and former work associates accounted for 21% of workplace homicide offenders between 2005 and 2009 (Harrell, 2011). Between 2005 and 2009, individuals employed in sales and office jobs accounted for a staggering 33% of workplace homicides, ranking higher than law enforcement workplace homicides at 17%.

Comprehensive Background Checks on prospective employees may present employers with a chance to prevent individuals who have a propensity toward violence from endangering businesses’ employees, brand reputation, and clients.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in a recent Law Enforcement Bulletin, wrote:

  • Prospective employers, when assessing a job applicant, need to consider that a comprehensive background check can be crucial in identifying past “behaviors of concern” and/or a pattern of criminal activity.
  • “…it is critical to understand that workplace violence does not happen at random or ‘out of the blue’. Rather, perpetrators usually display some behaviors of concern.” (Article)

Professional references are just one critical tool for providing employers with insight into an applicant’s character and professional behavior.

The aforementioned FBI Bulletin cites that tardiness, absenteeism, decreased productivity, struggling co-worker relationships, and decreased work performance, can all be indicators of increased workplace violence potential. Workplace violence extends beyond physical assaults and homicide – it also includes, but isn’t limited to, threatening behavior, intimidation, and bullying. The only information an employer obtains from a job applicant on a resume and job application is information the applicant is providing, and is therefore highly subjective.

Professional References are necessary to find out if a prospective employee has displayed concerning behaviors of tardiness, absences, bullying, and/or poor workplace relationships during previous periods of employment. Employers may want to obtain at least three professional references, in order to help provide more objective and accurate information, as well as to prevent scenarios in which a prospective employee may provide a fraudulent reference contact.

Extended Employment Verifications are also a vital tool employers can utilize in their background screening policy to make informed hiring decisions – decisions that could prevent a potential workplace violence offender from getting hired. Extended employment verifications involve obtaining questions specific to work performance and character from an applicant’s previous supervisor(s). Accredited background screening companies usually can accommodate a business’s request for business-specific and/or customized extended questions, and can likewise also usually provide a standardized set of extended questions as a suggestion to employers. Professional background screening companies can also consult with businesses to accommodate employers regarding the length of employment history they want checked on prospective applicants, the number of previous jobs they want verified, and/or the set points of contact to whom employers want the questions asked (for example, only applicants’ supervisors).

Naturally, a background screening program that contains professional references and extended employment verifications, as well as a thorough Criminal History Check, is a suggested best practice for employers to get the most insight into a prospective employee, as well as vital insight into what the FBI has termed “behaviors of concern”. These searches should be used to supplement a comprehensive criminal background history check, as well as other business-pertinent verifications.

Employers may want to assess if their current background screening programs are being used to their maximum capacity to assist employers in preventing applicants who present workplace violence risk from entering the employer’s workplace.

As the statistics show, even professions that are misguidedly considered safe (ex. an office occupation) are not immune from workplace violence. Employers may wish to consult with their background screening firms about which additional tools, including but not limited to extended employment verifications and professional references, are available to further reduce the risk of violence in the workplace.

In 2011, The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and ASIS International published the “Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard” (PDF) in collaboration with the American National Standards Institute, Inc. This Standard provides an overview of protocols, procedures and policies that any organization can adopt to help identify and prevent threatening behavior and violence affecting the workplace; and outlines how to better address and resolve threats and violence that have already occurred. EBI’s Chief Knowledge Officer, Robert Capwell, was one of the contributing authors of this Standard.

EBI is committed to providing employers with valuable education and resources on changing legislation and cutting-edge and compliant solutions to meet federal, state, local and international legal requirements. All content provided by EBI is published for the convenience of its readers and should never be deemed as legal guidance or advice. Always consult your legal counsel for specific advice on local laws and industry regulations.

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Samantha Manchester

Samantha Manchester

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