The Permissive Environment is the Perpetrator

Written By: Felix P. Nater

The Permissive Environment Is The Suspect…

The permissive and participatory conduct which most
employees take for granted,eventually escalates into the
more serious assaultive behavior commonly referred to as
employee on employee workplace violence starts with
innuendos, a bad word, or simple jokes taken out of context
or used to inflame another. Initiation of a proper and
thorough investigation is possible under the auspices of a
Threat Assessment Team. Banter between employees if left
alone by supervisors becomes tense and often results in a
more aggressive response. The truth of the matter is that in
most cases this banter is perceived as harmless shop talk.

Supervisors often believe that this healthy shop talk builds
camaraderie and does not detract from performance. However,
such permissive behavior empowers the potential perpetrator
who may feel he enjoys the partiality of the supervisor.
After all, he does his job, pumps out the numbers and meets
the “bosses” demands. Regardless of the relationship and his
performance, definite and clear action should be taken
initially to curtail the potential of an explosive situation
from impacting the workplace. The spontaneous reaction by
the victim is surprising and could be sufficiently volatile
to affect bystanders as well.

Remembering that the business owner is ultimately
responsible for the actions they fail to take in any
situation places the decision in question. The prevention of
workplace violence requires a proactive response. Security
is everyone’s responsibility but ultimately but ultimately
management’s duty. The exposure to violent behavior by non
employees is yet another issue which will be presented in
future articles.

In a permissive environment, the uninformed employee has no
idea that emotions tied into simple acts of harassment are
an explosive combination often leading to a spontaneous
counter response by the victim. While the response is
unfortunate in terms of who ultimately precipitated the
incident, the victim who is now taking the action into his
hands becomes the aggressor and must be held accountable.

Using a Threat Assessment Team or a trained group of
individuals would be the proper approach in this scenario
and in future incidents. The conduct of the Threat
Assessment Process would involve the total analysis of
information and intelligence available about the
participants, the incident and the environment in order to
render a fair and impartial outcome. Being properly trained
is key. Knowledge of how to conduct a fact finding
investigation is critical to the successful determination of
the type of disciplinary action or criminal prosecution
might bring. The process should synchronized and well
coordinated and reflective of the organization’s leadership
team if possible to insure that the preliminary
responsibility of conducting the fact finding investigative
process does not fall on the shoulders of the Security
Director only. The major players of the Threat Assessment
Team should include at a minimum: the Immediate Supervisor,
Personnel & Human Resource Managers, Employee Assistance,
Safety and Security Managers, to insure a thorough Threat
Assessment (Investigation) is conducted.

In Assessing the above scenario the root cause of the
confrontation was the unabated name calling, verbal abuse
and innuendos, in a contributory and improperly supervised
environment. Supervisors who fail to step in can be held
civilly liable and responsible for their failure to act
early or appropriately to prevent escalation or
confrontations. In cases of death or serious injury between
employees or customers, wrongful death law suits are often
filed in addition to criminal prosecution. Not knowing is no
longer a legitimate excuse. When supervisors fail to act
appropriately, management has the burden of investigating
the incident, dealing with the issue of the aggressor over
the contributory behavior of the instigator and decide on
the appropriate progressive actions (disciplinary or
referral to local police) necessary.

And, so while a Zero Tolerance Policy is necessary and
highly recommended, it should not be an absolute standard in
administering discipline until the “root cause” of the
contributory behavior becomes clear through the Assessment
Process. When controlling or addressing the potential fruits
of unwelcome behavior or to more appropriately, prevent
incidents dealing with a Workplace Security Issue, every
situation should not be resolved in the same manner with the
same administrative decision. Any broad-brush approach to
enforcing the Zero Tolerance Policy sours the innocent
bystanders and prejudices the potential witnesses who may
fear retaliation or retribution, factors which may further
complicate the disciplinary process and/or criminal

About the Author

President of Nater Associates a security management firm specializing in workplace violence prevention. Felix retired as a postal inspector with 30 years experience.

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