Violence in the Workplace

Policy approved by the Board of Supervisors on January 9, 2001
If you have questions or concerns about this policy, please contact Employee & Labor Relations

See also: Report of Incident or Unsafe Condition Form

I. POLICY

A. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to:

  • Establish a strong commitment to provide a safe work environment free of violence and threats of violence in all the facilities of the County of San Mateo;
  • Heighten awareness of domestic violence and use early prevention strategies to avoid or minimize the occurrence and effects of domestic violence in the workplace;
  • Provide for training and education of all employees regarding this policy; and to
  • Set forth procedures for reporting, investigating and resolving incidents and reports of acts or threats of violence in the workplace.

B. Policy

The County of San Mateo does not tolerate violence in the workplace. The safety and security of employees are of the highest priority to the organization. Threats of violence, threatening behavior or acts of violence against employees, visitors, customers, vendors conducting business with the County, persons appearing on County owned property seeking information or assistance from the County or any person utilizing County facilities for public meetings will not be tolerated. The County of San Mateo is committed to providing a workplace in which the perpetration of domestic violence is neither tolerated nor excused, as well as providing resources and support for employees and managers to address the occurrence and effects of domestic violence in the workplace.

All employees are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment. Employees who make threats, exhibit threatening behavior, engage in violent acts against the life, health, well-being, family or property of others while at work or at employer-sponsored events may be removed from the premises, may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, and may be subject to criminal penalties, or all of these actions.

The act or threat may in and of itself, constitute grounds for dismissal regardless of whether or not the perpetrator intended to carry out the threat.

Workplace violence is a serious issue; therefore, joking about violence or making false reports and unsubstantiated allegations about violence in the workplace will not be tolerated and will be treated as a violation of this County policy. In addition, retaliation by employees against other employees who report violations of this policy will not be tolerated. Employees who engage in such retaliation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

C. Definitions

Acts of Violence: The exertion of force or aggression with the intent of causing injury or abuse.

Threats of Violence: Remarks, gestures or communication which cause the individual to be concerned about their safety or the safety of others.

Domestic Violence: Abuse committed to a spouse or former spouse, cohabitant/or former cohabitant, current or past dating relationship or person with whom the victim had a child. Abuse means intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.

An employee who feels that he/she has been the target of actual or threatened or domestic violence should follow the County’s reporting procedures even if the act or conduct does not appear to fall within one of the following examples of violent acts and threats.

Examples of Violence

  • Initiating physical combat or fighting through actions such as grabbing, pinching, or impeding, blocking or obstructing of movements, striking, punching, slapping, kicking, pushing or any other threatening physical actions;
  • Other acts by or against employees including, stalking, challenging another person to physical combat or fight, or any other action or conduct that implies the threat of harm;
  • Threatening communication, including mail, e-mail, telephone calls, faxes, gestures, drawings, writings or verbal remarks;
  • Any other act or threat of violence, whether made indirectly or directly, including, but not limited to words, gestures, correspondence, symbols or physical acts which threaten the safety or physical security of County employees or which may inhibit employees from conducting business or providing services in a safe and physically secure environment. This includes, but is not limited to threats on County premises, at County functions or any other location where violence or threats of violence may have an adverse impact on the County’s ability to do business or provide services.
  • Illegal possession, use, or threat to use a gun, knife or other weapon of any kind on County property, including parking lots, other exterior premises, in County vehicles, or while engaged in business activities with or for the County in other locations when such use violates this policy. In addition, employees are prohibited from possessing dangerous devices (i.e., explosives or materials for making explosives) in the workplace or at the work site unless expressly authorized by the nature of their work. This provision does not apply to public safety personnel acting within the scope of their duties.

D. Responsibility

The Board of Supervisors and County Manager shall be responsible for promulgating and enforcing all policies and procedures established to provide a safe working environment free of violence and threats of violence. This will be carried out by delegating responsibility and accountability for adhering to the County’s policy and procedures.

Elected Officials and Department Heads shall be responsible for implementing this policy, including: communicating it to staff, ensuring that managers and supervisors receive training and investigate reports of violence or threats of violence, taking appropriate corrective action and creating a supportive workplace environment in which employees feel comfortable seeking assistance for domestic violence concerns. Elected officials and Department heads shall also ensure prompt investigation and resolution of complaints from employees who have experienced or witnessed violent or threatening behavior as defined in this policy if those employees are reporting acts or threats of violence.

Other Managers and Supervisors shall implement this policy as directed by their department heads, and shall receive complaints from employees who have experienced or witnessed violent or threatening behavior in the workplace. Managers and supervisors shall also take proactive steps to prevent behaviors that are listed in the “Definitions” sections as “acts of violence.” Such steps would include but are not limited to being alert to communication problems and taking steps to resolve them, and working with employees to correct identified behavioral problems. When threats or violent acts take place, managers and supervisors shall complete appropriate documentation, investigate and recommend and/or take corrective actions consistent with the procedure for internal threats of violence applicable rules and regulations and authority delegated by the department head.

Whenever managers or supervisors become aware of a case of domestic violence, they should be prepared to provide important resource information to the victim. A list of local resource organizations and other community resources are available in every County department. Among others, resources include:

  • Children and Families Services Commission Liaison 1-800-220-7575
  • Center for Domestic Violence Prevention 650-312-8515
  • Sor Juana Ines Services for Abused Women 1-800-300-1080
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE
  • http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/hsa.dir/familyviolence

Where domestic violence is an issue, managers and supervisors can help implement a Personal Workplace Safety Plan, which addresses safety concerns at work. In the development of the plan, supervisors and managers may wish to call upon the resources of the Sheriff’s Office Countywide Security Unit or the Employee and Public Services Department. This plan may include: confidential means for coming forward for help, resource and referral information, additional security at the workplace, work schedule adjustments or leave necessary to obtain medical, counseling or legal assistance and workplace relocation.

No employer shall discharge or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence as defined in Section 6211 of the Family Code for taking time off from work to obtain or attempt to obtain any relief, including, but not limited to, a temporary restraining order, restraining order, or other injunctive relief, to help ensure the health, safety, or welfare of a domestic violence victim or his or her child.

No employer shall discharge or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence as defined in Section 6211 of the Family Code for taking time off from work to seek medical attention for injuries caused by domestic violence; to obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, program, or rape crisis center as a result of domestic violence; to obtain psychological counseling related to an experience of domestic violence; or to participate in safety planning and take other actions to increase safety from future domestic violence, including temporary or permanent relocation.

As a condition of taking time off for a purpose set forth in the preceding two paragraphs, the employee shall give the employer reasonable advance notice of the employee’s intention to take time off, unless the advance notice is not feasible. When an unscheduled absence occurs, the employer shall not take any action against the employee if the employee, within a reasonable time after the absence, provides a certification to the employer. Certification shall be sufficient in the form of any of the following:

  1. A police report indicating that the employee was a victim of domestic violence;
  2. A court order protecting or separating the employee from the perpetrator of an act of domestic violence, or other evidence from the court or prosecuting attorney that the employee appeared in court
  3. Documentation from a medical professional, domestic violence advocate, health care provider or counselor that the employee was undergoing treatment for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting in victimization from an act of domestic violence

To the extent allowed by law, employers shall maintain the confidentiality of any employee requesting leave under these provisions.

Each employee has a responsibility to treat all employees and others with whom s/he has employment contact respectfully. Further, employees are prohibited from threatening violence or taking violent action as outlined in the examples in the “definition” section. It is the responsibility of any employee who feels that she/he has been the target of actual or threatened violence in the workplace or who has observed or otherwise learned of such conduct to immediately contact his/her supervisor or Employee and Public Services Department. In cases where there is an imminent potential for violence, security or the local law enforcement agency should be contacted immediately. Survivors of domestic violence should talk with a trusted co-worker, supervisor, union representative or manager about the situation, contact MHN contract provider and other resources and advise the supervisor or manager if concerned about safety at work.

E. Preventive Measures

  • Communicate the County’s Workplace Violence Prevention Policy & Procedures to all employees.
  • Provide periodic training on the County’s Workplace Violence Prevention Policy & Procedures to all employees.
  • Post emergency phone numbers on all County Telephones
  • Conduct periodic security checks (conducted by Countywide Security Coordinator)
  • Make available resource and referral information

II. PROCEDURE

A. Purpose

To establish reporting procedures and an intervention process when acts or threats of violence occur in the workplace.

B. Reporting Incidents

All employees are required to report any incident they experience or witness to their supervisor, manager, or if not available a department head, and, if warranted, to the responsible law enforcement agency (as discussed in the policy under “Definitions”.)

If a threat of violence occurs, any employee who witnesses or obtains information regarding such threat should in immediate situations:

  1. Get to safety first and alert others and/or dial 9-1-1. (9-911 on inter-county phone lines) and/or pull the local alarm.
  2. Notify his/her supervisor, manager, or department head who will quickly assess the situation and, if appropriate, dial 9-1-1 (9-911 on inter-county phone lines), if previously not done and follow appropriate procedure contained in Section B-1 or B-2.

B-1. External Threats of Violence

A hostile situation can take place at any time at our facilities for a variety of uncontrollable reasons. The procedures presented in this document should serve as a resource for staff.

Phase I- Assessment

What to look for/what to do Look for unusual behavior!

  • It is very important that all staff pay particular attention to unknown individuals exhibiting suspicious behavior entering facilities with no apparent reason for their presence. Staff should immediately report the presence of such persons to their supervisor. In immediate situations, dial 9-1-1 (9-911 on intercounty phone lines).
  • If the suspicious person leaves, report to the supervisor in which direction the person was going when last seen.
  • Keep in mind, that if a suspicious person leaves any items/property behind, such as a box, bag or other type of container, DO NOT TOUCH IT! You should immediately leave and report the situation. If you can, describe the size, shape and location of the property left behind by the suspicious intruder to the supervisor or 911 dispatcher.

How to Behave

Bear in mind that you might be the first person to be able to assess the situation of an unknown person exhibiting suspicious behavior in the facility. Therefore, you are the one who must make the determination as to whether the situation places you in imminent danger or not. Imminent danger for the purposes can be defined as immediate concerns about the safety of yourself and fellow workers.

If in imminent danger, don’t panic, get to a safe place and alert others. Escape with fellow workers if possible. If not, hide in an office that locks and has a telephone. Dial 9-1-1 (9-911 on intercounty telephones) and describe the situation, the person, and the suspicious behavior.

When calling 9-1-1 (9-911 on intercounty phone lines), remember that it is very important to describe the person: race, sex, age (adult/juvenile) height, weight, hair color, eye color, facial hair, distinguishing marks, clothing color and type, shoe color and type, and what type of property or weapon the person was carrying or brandishing.

If you are not in imminent danger, inform your supervisor and co-workers of the situation. Dial 911 (9-911 on intercounty phone lines) and report the situation if you are alone and would like the person checked out or asked to leave.

Phase II – Intervention

After a threat or act of violence occurs, any employee who witnesses or obtains information regarding such event should:

  • Notify his/her supervisor, manager, department head and the Countywide Security Coordinator at 363-4400.
  • Obtain medical attention or Managed Health Network (MHN) assistance at 1-800-826-4690, if necessary.
  • Cooperate with local law enforcement authorities if an investigation is conducted.
  • Complete the Report of Incident Form (copy attached)
  • If medical attention is needed, file a worker’s compensation claim.

Phase III – Investigation

After an incident or threat of violence, the local law enforcement agency and/or Countywide Security Coordinator will conduct an investigation.

When an employee is alleged to have threatened or committed the act of violence, the Internal Threat Procedure contained in Section B-2 will be followed.

B-2.

Internal Acts or Threats of Violence

This is a procedure for dealing with acts or threats of violence or domestic violence made by one County employee toward another County employee. This process describes steps to be taken in investigating acts or threats of violence. Decisions on any disciplinary action for employees accused of making acts or threats of violence or for employees who falsely accuse another of making acts or threats of violence must be based on individual circumstances in consultation with Employee Relations.

IF THERE IS THE POTENTIAL FOR IMMINENT VIOLENCE, CALL 9-911 FOR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSISTANCE IMMEDIATELY.

Phase I – Assessment – Department and/or Division Director

A. Investigate the allegations by an initial interview of complainants.

B. If these interviews indicate that a threat was made or an act of violence occurred, proceed with Phase II. If the interviews indicate that a threat was not made, conclude the process and communicate the interview results back to the individual who reported the incident.

Phase II – Investigation – Department/Division Director, Mental Health, Employee Relations, County Counsel and the District Attorney’s Office in cases of domestic violence. Coordinate security with Sheriff’s Office.

A. The Department/Division Director should contact Employee Relations to convene the multi-disciplinary Workplace Violence Advisory Team (see attached for roles and responsibilities of the team) to plan the investigation. If local law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation, consultation will be made through the Sheriff’s Office on how to proceed with the administrative investigation:

  1. If local law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation, determine the legal possibility of securing:
    1. Background check into criminal records
    2. Firearms registration check
    3. Check of Court records
  2. Formally interview witnesses and other individuals who may have knowledge of the alleged threat. These interviews, together with the interview of the individual alleged to have made the threat and a review of documents and records, constitute the investigation and form the basis for any administrative action.
  3. Interview the employee who made the threat(s) to determine their potential for violence and/or their intention of causing emotional distress by making threats. Based on this assessment, place the employee in one of the five categories listed below. This assessment will be made by a Mental Health professional.

Category Description and Action

  1. There is imminent danger of carrying out the threat. Arrest or hospitalize (coordinate with Sheriff’s Department). Determine whether disciplinary action is warranted.
  2. The subject is dangerous, but not imminently so. This could be a quid pro quo threat (“If I don’t get that promotion …”). Place on administrative leave pending a decision on disciplinary action.
  3. There is insufficient evidence that the subject will carry out the threat, but sufficient evidence that he/she is making threat(s) to intentionally cause emotional distress. Consider temporary reassignment or administrative leave depending on the level of distress being caused pending a decision on disciplinary action.
  4. There is insufficient evidence that the subject will carry out the threat or that he/she is making threat(s) to intentionally cause distress. However, the employee’s threatening behavior could cause emotional distress. Consider temporary reassignment or administrative leave depending on the level of distress being caused pending a decision on disciplinary action.
  5. Insufficient evidence for violence or emotional distress. This could be an inaccurate or unsubstantiated report in which case no action is appropriate, or it could be a false accusation. In the case of a false accusation, consult with Employee Relations regarding appropriate disciplinary action for the employee making the false report.

Phase III – Decision – Department/Division Director in consultation with Employee Relations and County Counsel.

  1. Based on the information gathered in the Investigation Phase, determine what disciplinary action, if any, is warranted. In the case of a false report, determine whether disciplinary action is warranted for the employee initiating the false report.

Phase IV – Communication – Department/Division Director in consultation with Employee Relations, Mental Health and County Counsel.

  1. If the threat was a direct one (i.e. the threatening statement was made to the individual being threatened), keep that individual informed about the progress of the investigation. Advise the individual of the availability of counseling through MHN and advise them that they should contact the local law enforcement agency since a direct threat may be a criminal act. Legal questions regarding the possibility of securing a restraining order should be directed to County Counsel by the Department or Division Director.
  2. If the threat was indirect (e.g. the individual making the threat tells a third party that he/she may harm someone else) you should advise the subject of the threat only after completing the initial assessment phase. This initial assessment phase should be completed immediately.
  3. If staff becomes aware of the threat and individuals become fearful or anxious, you should either inform them individually of the availability of MHN or contact MHN regarding a general session. Other steps such as group meetings or discussions of personal security may also be appropriate.
  4. If witnesses express concern, counseling through the Managed Health Network (MHN) should also be made available to them.

Roles/Responsibilities of Workplace Violence Advisory Team Members

  • Sheriff’s Department
    • The Undersheriff (or designee) and the Countywide Security Coordinator are the Sheriff’s Office representatives on the team. The Sheriff’s Department will provide advice if there is a criminal violation. In an emergency situation, Sheriff’s representatives may assist with an incident though they would also call in local law enforcement where appropriate.
  • County Counsel
    • The Advisory Team will be have a representative from the County Counsel although any follow-up that is necessary (i.e. disciplinary action) will be handled by assignment. Any contact from departments must come through their department head to their assigned attorney.
  • Mental Health
    • Representatives will assist in assessing the threat and its impact on co-workers and/or others and may obtain outside consultation if necessary.
  • Employee Relations
    • The Employee Relations Manager will participate on the Advisory Team. Disciplinary actions will be handled based on departmental assignment.
  • MHN
    • MHN will still take the lead in dealing with group or individual critical incident debriefings or individual counseling of victims, collaterals and/or their family members.