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The New Normal: How to Guard Against Increasing Workplace Violence

COVID-19 has been consistently bringing changes to the workplace and to day-to-day life since it first emerged. Most of those changes, unfortunately, are for the negative. Those negative changes, among other factors, have contributed to many alterations in the way people interact with each other. Anyone who has watched the news lately has probably heard about increasing incidents of workplace violence, be it an upset employee, a disgruntled customer, or something completely random.

There is no better way to demonstrate the human and financial cost that could be incurred by workplace violence incidents than to bring up real-world examples of them, examples such as the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, the Capital Gazette, the Colorado Cinemark, or the country music festival in Las Vegas. If you broaden the scope to include less widely publicized incidents, it becomes even more clear, including events such as the workplace shooting in Virginia Beach at a municipal building in 2019.

These events cause untold amounts of emotional, physical, and financial damage to those involved, even the bystanders. If an incident of workplace violence occurs, going back to normal operations can become a very difficult task. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), around 2 million workers in the United States report incidents of workplace violence. The costs to organizations affected by those incidents can be hard to comprehend.

One incident can result in lost lives, years of psychological trauma, property damage, and medical bills for those who have been affected. The financial toll gets exponentially higher when considering lost productivity, workplace shutdowns, or reputation costs.

When incidents occur, questions begin to pop up almost immediately: Who has been affected and how bad is the situation? When, if ever, will employees be healthy enough (mentally and physically) to return to work? How long will work be shut down? Will a police investigation keep the business closed? Is increased security needed?

There are ways to mitigate the costs and provide some degree of protection to companies and others who are affected. Insurance for workplace violence is becoming increasingly common. Of course, some industries (and some companies) are more prone to episodes than others. Businesses sharing any of the following characteristics could be at a higher risk:

· High-stress environments

· Actively undergoing company restructuring processes or layoffs

· Serving alcohol

· Operating later at night

· High levels of public interaction

The insurance itself, typically, costs somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000-$3,000 annually, depending on needs, for small to midsized companies, with a $1 million limit. Coverage usually takes care of the following costs:

· Death benefits to families of employees slain during episodes of violence

· Hiring mental health professionals

· Hiring security experts, PR professionals, or crisis management consultants

· Medical expenses and salary reimbursement to affected employees

· Reimbursement of company revenues due to business interruptions

Who should get this type of insurance? It is hard to say and very dependent on the company and industry. With that being said, every company should at least look at their situation and consult an insurance professional for their opinion. One of the most harrowing aspects of workplace violence, outside of the event itself, is how random it can be.

Another way some companies choose to protect themselves is through the purchase of workers’ compensation insurance, which is meant to help employees receive medical care and lost income and to protect the business itself from potential financial damage associated with lawsuits from injured workers.

While workers’ compensation will cover injuries stemming from many types of incidents occurring inside the workplace, it often does not include workplace violence or many of the associated costs. Relying on workers’ compensation for violence in the workplace will leave companies with significant coverage gaps.

General liability insurance does not typically cover third parties. Though their expenses may not immediately seem relevant, the reality is that events of workplace violence can have significant impacts on business partners, vendors, and clients. For one thing, the reputation of your company can be affected. Beyond that, third parties who are injured on your property can bring action against your company for negligence.

Those lawsuits often allege that proper precautions were not taken to ensure safety. The lawsuits can last for years. In the event that plaintiffs win, general liability may pay for covered damages and expenses (up to the limits of the policy), but additional expenses that may be incurred will not be covered.

In summary, and the major takeaway from all of this, is that the effects of workplace violence can ripple throughout not only the company but also through anyone associated with the company. Those ripples will lead to costs, either in reputation or in hard assets and finances. Workplace Violence Insurance can assist with mitigating those costs and, in combination with a good risk management plan, can not only help the company recover but also put it in a position of protection before anything occurs.

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