Every year, nearly 2 million Americans report they’ve been victims of workplace violence, a labor attorney said during a recent National Restaurant Association webinar.

The webinar, featuring Terri M. Solomon of the Littler Mendelson law firm in New York, aimed to educate restaurant operators on best practices in keeping employees and customers safe in the event of a violent attack in a restaurant or retail setting.

Solomon said threats come from multiple sources, including criminal behavior by an outsider or a guest; threatening behavior by an employee; domestic violence that spills from the home into the workplace; and suicide.

Read more about preventing workplace violence

She offered the following tips for preventing workplace violence and protecting your employees, your business and yourself:

  1. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on employee-involved workplace violence. Publicize it to all employees. Make it known that any violent behavior or threat of violence won’t be tolerated, even if it’s a joke. Make sure your employees understand that kind of behavior could result in termination.
  2. Train your staff. People who intend to engage in workplace violence often give clues and warnings. Train managers and employees to recognize the signs, what to do and how to be prepared.
  3. Conduct background checks. Performing a background check could help you avoid hiring employees with long histories of violent crime. However, be aware of constraints under various federal, state and local laws. For example, some jurisdictions limit employer questions about conviction or arrest records.  Consult your attorney before conducting background checks.
  4. Do a safety audit. Every employer should consider doing this. It’s inexpensive and quick. Appoint a person who is responsible for safety operations, either on your staff or outsourced. Conduct a walk-through so you know where all entrances and exits are and what could be made safer. Local police are often more than willing to help with this.
  5. Create a threat/incident management team. Include leaders from your human resources, security and legal departments, along with senior management. This sends the message to your employees that security is a top-down commitment by your company.

“Over the years, incidents of workplace violence have increased,” Solomon said. “With that comes increased publicity and awareness and a desire to protect your employees and patrons. It is important you know how to keep them safe.”