Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
The morning after any kind of mass violence playing on loop on every media outlet poses unique challenges to employers and managers. Not only can workplace conversations turn uncomfortable and potentially inappropriate, but trauma that is not adequately addressed can have a direct impact on workplace productivity. How can an employer respond to emotional discussions while being sensitive to employees whose racial, religious, sexual, or ethnic identity was a focus of the underlying attacks and is a subject of media attention? Many employers feel inadequately prepared; while sensing that silence leaves a vacuum in which conversations about the “news” may be awkward and result in misunderstanding or trample on sensitivities, they may not have thought about how to address such unfortunate situations. Addressing the issue head-on can provide employees with the sense of support needed to prevent workplace disputes.
Here are some practical “Dos and Don’ts” to assist employers in navigating a response in the wake of domestic or international mass violence events.
- Reiterate the company’s policies against workplace violence, discrimination and harassment, encouraging employees to report any behavior that violates company policy. Remind employees of the avenues available for reporting workplace violence, discrimination and harassment and the company’s non-retaliation policy.
- Reinforce the company’s appreciation of its diverse workforce and its commitment to supporting employees of all ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, or other minority backgrounds.
- If the company decides to send out an e-mail to its workforce on the topic, to the extent that it is feasible, identify available resources for individuals to process the trauma, such as employee assistance programs, therapy services, hotlines, or mental health resources otherwise provided by the company.
- Advise employees to exercise caution in social media posts in accordance with company policy.
- Reach out to diversity experts and community leaders when in doubt on how responses should be formulated in a culturally sensitive manner.
- Employ experts to provide sensitivity training to management, especially if the workforce has a challenging history in terms of prior employee or manager conduct with regard to issues of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other protected characteristics.
- Don’t place any direct or indirect pressure on particular individuals or groups (i.e., racial group or affinity groups) to address the issue.
- Don’t discourage, directly or indirectly, the use of personal time to deal with the aftermath of trauma. Indeed, forcing non-essential employees to report to work when they are not ready to casually socialize could be a recipe for inappropriate conversation.
- Do not forget that anniversaries of mass violence are triggers that reignite the underlying issues and concerns. Just as 9/11 continues to have a rippling effect on social media and news outlets on an annual basis, be aware that anniversaries of other traumatic events may have a similar impact.
- Do not simply cut/paste prior responses or responses by other organizations, which may come off as disingenuous.
- Do not formulate diversity initiatives as a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, be thoughtful and, if needed, consult with others who have successful diversity committees, events, or groups to learn how to authentically encourage diversity. Take the time to get it right.
- Do not forget that if the perpetrator of the underlying violent event is of a particular racial, political, religious or other identifiable group, employees who also belong to that group may similarly need support in dealing with workplace issues. Thus, any response should be carefully tailored to address sensitives that may arise by employees whose backgrounds correlate with both the victims of violence as well as the background of the perpetrator of violence.
It cannot be overstated that any response to mass violence should be carefully and specifically tailored to address both the unique circumstances of the event as well as the particular needs of the workforce. If you need assistance drafting an immediate response or long-term strategy to address the unique needs of your company and workforce, please contact the author of this article for additional strategies and resources.