COVID-19 produced two years of unsteady work environments, leading to mass employee distrust and dissatisfaction and permanently altering the workforce. The US saw a record high unemployment rate of 14.7% in 2020 due to pandemic-related layoffs, and while today’s unemployment rate sits much lower at 3.7%, lingering effects of the pandemic layoffs and pay cuts persist within the job market. 

Americans are demanding better treatment, pay and benefits from their employers. However, due to global inflation, high interest rates and supply chain issues, the cost of doing business is rising, and employee wages and hours are often the first to be affected. This, coupled with ongoing feelings of mistreatment during the pandemic led to the perfect storm for disgruntled employees. It is no wonder that employers are heavily concerned about workplace violence, especially when the news is full of stories like the 2021 Indiana FedEx incident, wherein a former employee entered a company warehouse and shot eight people dead. 

The threat of gun-related violence in the US is very real, with more than 300 mass shootings having taken place this year alone. Today’s volatile economy and widespread employee dissatisfaction make places of business a key target. It’s important for employers to take these threats seriously and take steps to protect their customers and staff from harm. 

Conduct employee background checks

The first and most important step is to conduct thorough background checks on potential candidates, including education, work and financial history, criminal record and social media use. If any violent crimes or criminal history are revealed, the employer should ask for an explanation of the report findings and withhold the job offer accordingly. It is important, however, that employers are compliant with state and federal laws, and equal employment opportunity is not violated.

Ensure anti-violence policies and resources are clearly communicated

While it may not be possible to stop a bad actor from executing a violent crime, it is important for employers to include a comprehensive anti-violence policy in their employee handbook, which clearly states that weapons are prohibited from the premises, including parking lots and outdoor break areas. 

Employees should also have easy access to conflict-resolution resources, and be given ample opportunity to have their grievances heard (and taken seriously) by HR and management. The handbook anti-violence policy should include clear instructions for employees to report suspicious behavior that alludes to potential acts of violence such as gun-related threats. This could include an internal communication network or portal available to employees that enables them to submit anonymous tips or reports. It is important for the company to swiftly follow up on employee concerns in order to prevent potential violent attacks. 

Hold workplace violence prevention training 

It is an employer’s responsibility to properly train their employees on how to respond to violent situations such as an active shooter threat. Employers can conduct training seminars or roundtable discussions on the subject of workplace violence, in which they discuss procedures for reporting violence, whom to contact in an emergency situation, and an evacuation plan. These discussions can also educate employees on potential warning signs and the assistance available to them should they find themselves in a violent situation. Additionally, employees must be made aware of the processes to follow in an active shooter situation, including the location of all emergency exits and how to safely exit the premises. 

Employers should seriously consider arranging annual active shooter drills, which are often offered by local police departments or private companies. Drills teach employees how to respond quickly and effectively in dangerous situations and mitigate potentially deadly outcomes. 

Identify potential risk factors and pay attention to suspicious behavior

Employers can stay ahead of the curve and predict and prevent violent outbursts by anticipating potential triggers. Workers may become angry and aggressive due to stressful work environments or mistreatment, including layoffs and understaffing. Employers can make an active effort to prevent mistreatment and understaffing, but layoffs are a bit trickier.

If a layoff or firing situation is unavoidable and violence is anticipated, both staff and building security should be made aware so that they are extra alert to the ex-employee, especially if they enter the building following termination or display any kind of suspicious behavior.

It is easier to stop violent actors ahead of time if managers are actively involved in the day-to-day business operations. Active management should be able to notice shifts in employee behavior and be aware of recurrent outbursts or threatening comments and behavior. If management takes notice early on, there is potential to intervene and prevent a situation from escalating before it’s too late.

Evaluate existing security measures

To ensure a company is prepared for violent threats, the security measures in place must be regularly evaluated. This should include a thorough assessment of building access, taking note of where and how individuals can access the property, and address potential vulnerabilities to break-ins or concealed areas that welcome suspicious activity due to insufficient security cameras, bad lighting or a lack of security personnel. 

Modernize security and monitoring systems

Once the security evaluation is complete, employers should consider all the measures available to protect their customers and employees. This includes physical security features such as locks or bars on windows, security cameras, bulletproof windows, security doors with limited access and security guards to patrol the facility/parking lot. 

Additional options include monitoring visitors through a check-in desk, capturing video surveillance and implementing a badge security system that requires employees to show and/or scan their ID each day to access the building.

Today, many high-tech solutions are available to provide even more protection. Smart lockdown systems can remotely lock down certain areas of the building during an emergency event, helping to isolate the threat. Metal detectors and sensors can alert security personnel of potential weapons brought onto the premises. As a less invasive option, there are AI-based systems that can rapidly detect guns brandished on the premises, alert staff and first responders and provide real-time threat intelligence including the shooter’s location, appearance and weapon. 

The best way to ensure the safety of employees and customers is through a multi-layered security approach that hardens the premises as much as possible. If most of these security tactics are implemented, bad actors are more likely to be deterred from targeting those businesses

Implementing proper security measures can save lives

Because of the lingering effects of COVID-19 and unstable economic conditions, the potential for violent behavior in public spaces and businesses is high. While it is impossible to control the actions of individuals, many steps can be taken by employers to prevent violent situations from escalating. Employers can enforce employee background checks, ensure proper anti-violence policies are in place, educate managers and employees on how to identify risk factors and report suspicious behavior, conduct regular violence prevention training and regularly evaluate and modernize their security systems. If these systems and processes are properly deployed and maintained, potential threats can be mitigated early on, and countless lives can be saved. 

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security magazine. Subscribe here.