Jobs can bring stress but physical violence is not acceptable workplace behaviour, says Jo Bostock, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business.
AS an employer, you have a duty of care to protect your employees from violence in the workplace. But if the worst does happen, you also need to know how to respond in order to safeguard employees and customers, and protect your business.
So what are some of the key things to bear in mind in terms of your legal responsibilities and other aspects of workplace management?
You have a duty of care to your staff and customers under health and safety law to protect them – as far as is practicable – against violence, the threat of violence and verbal abuse.
You also have a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to prevent any unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Is violence gross misconduct?
Gross misconduct refers to acts that are so serious that they may result in dismissal without notice (although this should not be done without following the correct procedure), even if the employee has had no previous warnings. There is no legal definition of gross misconduct, so to some extent it is up to the employer to decide what this consists of.
But, and this is the important bit, you need to clearly set out for employees what this is. You can do this in the contract of employment or staff handbook. By identifying what constitutes gross misconduct (this could be physical violence, indecent behaviour, theft, bullying, etc.) you will have a stronger case for dismissal if the worst does happen. You should make sure that when listing what might constitute gross misconduct for your business that you state that the list is not exclusive.
No matter what happens you must follow a fair disciplinary process before dismissing for gross misconduct.
Members of the Forum of Private Business can download a contract of employment template, and also contact our helpline for help with disciplinary and dismissal procedures.
Ensure you pull no punches when it comes to preventing workplace violence.
From an operational point of view, preventing violence and other forms of bullying and harassment is good for business. If bad behaviour of any kind is poorly managed, it can result in poor morale and performance, lost productivity, absence, resignations and, in the worst case scenario, tribunal claims from other staff.
You should have clear policies in relation to harassment and violence, detailing your responsibilities and those of the workforce. This sets the acceptable standard for employees and details the serious consequences of their actions if they do break the rules. They should also be made aware of the options available to them if they feel they have been the victim of violence.
However, policies are just one part of the equation. Creating a culture in the company where violence, bullying and harassment are not tolerated or encouraged is also important – as is monitoring performance and tackling any behavioural issues before they escalate.
If in doubt get advice before you act!
The rules around disciplinary and dismissal are complicated, so we strongly advise that you never dismiss a member of staff without first taking advice to ensure you’ve acted within the law.
This will help to prevent any future claims for unfair dismissal, or at least give you a solid defence.