ESR Background Screening Trend 7 for 2011: More Workplace Violence Prevention Education Helps Protect Employers and Employees

By Lester Rosen, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) President & Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Editor

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) Fourth Annual ‘Top Ten Trends in Pre-Employment Background Screening’ for 2011

Trend No. 7:  More Workplace Violence Prevention Education Helps Protect Employers and Employees

A background screening trend that gained much attention in 2010 that will continue to do so in 2011 will be increased workplace violence prevention education to help protect both employers and employees.

While the term “workplace violence” is appropriate for a quick definition or diagnosis of a problem, fully defining all aspects of “workplace violence” can be nebulous at best. Many employers loosely define workplace violence as:

Assaults, other violent acts, or threats which occur in or are related to the workplace and entail a substantial risk of physical or emotional harm to individuals, or damage to company resources or capabilities.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) defines “workplace violence” as “violence or the threat of violence against workers” that involves any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in, or related to, the workplace, and includes behaviors ranging in aggressiveness from verbal harassment to murder. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 521 workplace killings in the United States in 2009, 420 of them committed by gunfire.

Workplace violence incidents seemed to make the news more regularly in this past year, with each tragic case serving to further educate employers, and the public, about workplace violence:

  • January 2010: A male employee at a manufacturing company in Missouri involved in a lawsuit filed against the company allegedly killed three people and then shot himself.
  • February 2010: A female professor was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting after being denied tenure at a university in Alabama. In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, two family members of one victim said they hoped the shooting would lead to more thorough background checks for the school’s faculty after learning about the accused killer’s allegedly violent past.
  • March 2010: A female supermarket worker in Florida fired for threatening to kill a coworker returned to work and made good on her threat.
  • August 2010: In the wake of the tragic shooting spree on November 5, 2009 in which an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas and took the lives of 13 military personnel and wounded 32 others, the Department of Defense called for more education about workplace violence as part of its final review of the recommendations from the independent report ‘Protecting the Force: Lessons Learned from Fort Hood.’ Specifically, “Recommendation 2.6 a, b: Update Policies to Address Workplace Violence” states the Independent Review found “guidance concerning workplace violence” was insufficient and that these programs “may serve as useful resources for developing more comprehensive workplace violence prevention.”
  • August 2010: A truck driver in Connecticut who purportedly stole from his company and resigned reportedly killed eight people and then shot himself with a handgun.
  • September 2010: After being suspended from her job, a woman allegedly killed coworkers at a baking plant in Philadelphia.
  • September 2010: A survey by Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) revealed more than half of the emergency nurses surveyed – a mean of 54.8 percent – reported experiencing incidents of workplace violence in the past week. In addition, almost three out of four emergency nurses – 74.4 percent – who were victims of workplace violence reported that the hospital gave them no response regarding that workplace violence. As a result of the survey, ENA urged OHSA to make its guidelines for preventing workplace violence into mandatory standards that to which all hospital and health care centers must adhere.
  • September 2010: Part of the emerging trend of workplace violence is that women seem to be increasingly becoming involved in workplace violence incidents. Although women commit fewer than 5 percent of homicides and assaults in the workplace, several high-profile cases of women killing in the workplace occurred in the past year, and these cases could indicate a possible trend emerging of women committing more acts of workplace violence.

These recent incidents of workplace violence remind employers that they should have education and policies on how to help prevent workplace violence, including training on how to recognize, and deal with, the warning signs of workplace violence. 

While the definition of “workplace violence” covers a fair degree of actions, a better interpretation should be used in order to create an effective, defensible policy for employers. A better definition of workplace violence should account for the type of offense, circumstance — where and when an incident occurs, and whether it is considered to be “on-the-job” — and party or parties involved. Workplace violence can take place anywhere employees are required to carry out a business-related function.

While many acts of workplace violence are caused by external parties, such as robbery in the workplace by a stranger, recent concerns over workplace violence center on workplace violence carried out by existing employees. These internal incidents of workplace violence leave employers largely liable for any problems that occur in the workplace under the “Negligent Hiring Doctrine” dictating that employers can be held liable for damages if they knowingly employ persons known to pose a potential threat to co-workers or the public.

That said, the question arises — how can an employer identify a potentially problematic employee? The problem is that there is no magic formula that tells an employer in advance who will and will not be violent. Predicting future violence is a matter of considerable controversy. However, experts have found some factors that are present in many cases of workplace violence. One important factor is a history of past violence.  For that reason, pre-employment background checks are widely regarded as an effective screening procedure because the process serves three major functions:

  • First, screening job applicants can bring to light problems in a potential hire’s past such as a history of violence, harassment, or extremely inappropriate behavior.
  • Second, by making it standard policy to screen all job applicants on their way into the company, employers demonstrate due diligence, showing that all reasonable efforts have been made in determining whether or not the applicant poses a threat to the company or to the public.
  • Third, pro-actively communicated background screening practices cause applicants to opt-out by discouraging prospective jobseekers with criminal or problematic backgrounds from applying.

However, there is more to preventing workplace problems than background screening at the door. Lives of employees can change. A person who checked out in an initial background screening may over time develop the traits or behaviors indicative of a potentially violent employee. It is up to the employer to maintain a constant eye on conditions and events in the workplace — to stay aware of employee attitudes and concerns in order to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved. Some workplace violence is related to domestic violence that spills over in the workplace. Also, workplace violence can be threats that create a hostile workplace. Employers need to be prepared to assemble a team to deal with workplace violence incidents.

One way employers can deal with workplace violence is to use due diligence in hiring as an important tool to avoid “bad” – and potentially violent – hires. Pre-employment background screening plays a critical role of in the hiring process.  Setting up a pre-employment background screening program is quick, easy, and the cost is minimal compared to just one workplace violence incident.  An employer can provide a great deal of protection from workplace violence just by a well designed job application, interview, criminal background check, and past employment and education verification process. The bottom line is that employees also want protection from workplace violence and to work in a workplace with safe and qualified co-workers.

To read more articles about workplace violence on ESR News, visit  For more information about background screening to help prevent workplace violence, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is releasing the ESR Fourth Annual ‘Top Ten Trends in Pre-Employment Background Screening’ for 2011 throughout December. This is the Seventh of the Top Ten Trends ESR will be tracking in 2011. To see an updated list of ESR’s ‘Top Ten Trends in Pre-Employment Background Screening’ for 2011, visit:  

Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay area, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is the company that wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. Employment Screening Resources is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) for proving compliance with the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). ESR was the third U.S. background check firm to be Safe Harbor’ Certified for data privacy protection. To learn more, visit or contact Jared Callahan, ESR Director of Client Relations, at 415.898.0044 or