HR Leads Business

Oct 4, 2019 | Clare Chiappetta

Firearms at Work: Good Precaution or Bad Policy?

Gun violence is an all-too-frequent trend in the news, and HR teams should take notice. Shootings in most locations — including schools and government buildings — are in places of work.

“Historically, the majority of active shooter situations have occurred at workplaces,” says David Cowan, founder and CEO of Cowan Consulting, which specializes in helping organizations create safe and productive environments. According to FBI research, 82.5% of shootings between 2003 and 2013 occurred at schools, places of commerce, government entities or health care facilities.

"While this may not seem like a traditional role for human resources, they should be actively involved,” says Hector Alvarez, president of Alvarez Associates, a workplace threat-mitigation consultancy. “The issue of firearms is polarizing. The implications of allowing firearms at the office go far beyond the legal liability. HR needs to have their hands in this decision from the very beginning."

Here are some ways HR can contribute toward promoting gun safety at your workplace.

Replace Polarization with Responsibility

Firearms are loaded in more ways than one — in today’s society few objects are as polarizing as the gun. “If you want to implement a responsible firearms policy at work, you have to remove emotions from the discussion,” Alvarez says. “People refer to firearms as a tool, but they’re a tool that comes with significant emotional factors, as well as political and cultural liability.”

Decisions based on emotion aren’t universally bad, but they aren’t always well thought out — and a rushed decision can be just as damaging as a bad one. “An organization really needs to follow the consequences of allowing firearms in the workplace to their final state,” says James Savage, a former Secret Service agent and principal at Savage Global Strategies. “It’s critical to take ownership of all the possible consequences before allowing such a significant change in the workplace.”

Understand the Full Extent of Your Risk Exposure

Introducing firearms at work introduces the possibility of accidental discharges and potential fatalities, Savage says. But also consider liability from an employee standpoint — an employee with a firearm probably isn’t trained as a first-responder. “If it isn’t your core discipline, handling guns is very dangerous,” Alvarez says. If you’re going to allow employees to bring firearms to the workplace, they must be trained in the use of the weapon, and they need to practice and learn on a regular basis.

Furthermore, Savage says, if a situation actually occurs there will be a tremendous amount of pressure to respond to the threat — even though that’s probably not what you hired the employee to do. “If an accident occurs, or an employee feels berated for not reacting to a situation, you’ve lost those employees,” Savage says. “You didn’t hire them to protect your company, but in a situation where someone gets hurt and they’re blamed, that employee probably isn’t coming back.” Additionally, an untrained employee tackling an active shooter could easily result in more injuries. These additional liabilities are a significant risk to your business.

The solution is to outsource security, not rely on your employees. After all, there are people available whose job is to protect others, so why put that responsibility on your staff? It’s critical to assess your organization’s vulnerability before introducing firearms into the workplace. Preventive factors should always be utilized before turning to guns as a solution.

“Is there a time where allowing people to carry a firearm in the workplace makes sense? Yes, but you have to go down a long checklist of items to get you there,” Alvarez says. “If you can mitigate these vulnerability factors, there may be no need for firearms.” Locking doors, controlling access, avoiding cash use and discouraging employees from staying past work time are among the many steps that should be taken before turning to firearms as a solution.

Approach Potential Workplace Violence Holistically

When looking to prevent workplace violence, guns are not the most useful tool. Threat mitigation is a much more powerful means of preventing violence from occurring. “Once it’s gotten to the point that guns are involved, somebody’s already shooting,” Savage says. “It is most beneficial to utilize behavioral threat-assessment techniques to prevent from developing in the first place. Behavioral threat assessment is an actual prevention, not merely a reaction.”

HR should be involved in implementing threat assessment. It’s critical to learn and watch out for the warning signs of a potential shooter. “Generally speaking, shooters are just average people — they don’t stand out the way we want them to,” Cowan says. “There are indicators of potential violence, but these can’t be mitigated by a simple firearms policy. There has to be a process.”

Everyone should be trained to look for warning signs, but employees have to report to someone. Consider designating someone in HR as the organization’s chief threat assessor, Cowan says. An HR-based intelligence manager can use centralized intelligence to compile a bigger picture. HR also plays a role in doing more extensive background checks to avoid hiring a potentially dangerous individual.

Company culture plays a huge role in threat mitigation. Safety starts with purpose and acceptance. “Most potential shooters are highly marginalized,” Cowan says. “HR and leadership have the capacity to stop a shooting before it begins by creating a culture that values each team member.” HR can be instrumental in cultivating a culture where each individual is valued for their contribution to the organization. “A positive shift in culture also has the collateral benefit of supporting employee engagement and retention,” Cowan says.