Screen to Reduce Workplace Violence

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) workplace violence survey found that more than 50 percent of the respondents were concerned that workplace violence might occur at their organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 564 work-related homicides occurred each year in the United States from 2004 to 2008. While maintaining a safe workplace is the primary goal of any workplace safety program, many companies, small and large, fail to engage in a comprehensive background screening program for employees and contractors. Why is background screening so important in screening out potential work-related violence? And, why should current employees and contractors be screened annually?

Background Screening

Workplace violence prevention can include many strategies and tactics. Developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention plan is essential. Ongoing reviews, training and drills are needed to ensure that the plan lives and is effective. Procedures and hotlines can be established for employees who need assistance and for those who recognize the warning signs of workplace violence from a co-worker. Many organizations institute highly effective awareness campaigns that include workplace speakers and seminars. Workplace violence is considered when developing security policies and access control methods.

While all of these are highly recommended, another critical strategy is to review what is at the center of every workplace violence situation—employees. Companies that care about the environment in which people are working must strive to ensure that everyone who interacts with the workforce has a violence-free history. The best prognosticator of future violence is a review of the past.

Background checks can identify applicants and employees who have demonstrated unacceptable workplace behavior. The background check process can include county criminal record and national criminal file searches, drug testing, prior employment and education verification, license verifications, and other investigations that can reveal potential warning signs. However, conviction information can be used only if certain conditions are met, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC permits employers to use convictions on the basis of business necessity that can be justified if the conduct that led to the conviction is particularly egregious or related to the position in question.

When people know that a company stands behind comprehensive background screening, they know that the company cares about their welfare. Applicants who have dubious backgrounds that include reckless acts might “self-select” out of the interviewing process. Applicants and existing employees with clean backgrounds typically are not bothered by the screening process as they appreciate the organization’s commitment to a safe workplace.

Know Who Is on Your Premises

To secure a facility fully, the employer must know exactly who is on their premises. Whether you are a property manager, HR representative or business leader, it is important to understand that a secure workplace means screening not just employees but also contractors, vendors and temporary staff. These individuals can run the gamut from regular faces your employees know well to the contractor who visits only once. Regardless of your level of familiarity with these vendors or temporary employees, the need for thorough background screening is the same. To promote a greater level of safety and security for employees and customers, it is vital to conduct regular screening of the extended workforce, which might include service and repair professionals, construction workers, food service workers—virtually any nonemployee that is interacting with your personnel and customers.

Companies are looking for speed in the hiring and onboarding process. Comprehensive background screening can take up to a week to complete, which can exasperate some hiring managers. However, a company that fails to screen applicants rigorously or repeat screening for current employees and contractors might face much larger issues than a few days delay in onboarding a new hire. Workplace violence, employee theft, fraud and a host of other issues can arise when hiring an employee who has not been screened properly. This might make an organization vulnerable to employee injury or death, unsafe working conditions, brand and reputation damage, and lawsuits for negligent hiring.

Ongoing Screening

Additionally, it is critical to re-screen employees and contractors each year. Employees who keep their personal lives under wraps might be involved in activities that could impact the workplace. For example, an employee who joined the company with a clean record five years ago might have been involved in domestic disputes over the past few years. This information is crucial for an employer, as domestic disputes sometimes travel into the workplace. The same applies for contractors.

Violence-Free Culture

Requiring employees and contractors to complete initial and annual background screening is a common practice. Employees appreciate dedication to creating a corporate culture and working environment that is focused on safety and security.

Background screening can become the marker for when employees and contractors should be reminded of other elements of your workplace violence prevention efforts. Information to promote awareness and reminders to participate in company-sponsored training can be distributed when background checks are initiated.

There are many stressors in the workplace today. Employees and contractors are juggling large workloads, demanding deadlines and a rocky economy. People want to know that the colleagues they pass in the hall, the contractor who fixes their copier, and the cleaning crew who tidies up their workspace are vetted by their employer as best as is possible legally. Background screening might not weed out every potential workplace violence situation, but it is the gold standard of what companies can and must do.

William (Bill) J. Tate is president of HRPlus,, a leading provider of comprehensive employment and background-screening solutions and a division of AlliedBarton Security Services, the industry’s provider of highly trained security personnel. Bill Tate can be reached at

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