Violent, threatening, or harassing behaviour should never be acceptable in the workplace. Having effective and enforceable policies in place can be a first step to preventing violence in workplaces.
David Williams is the Executive Director of Rainbow's End (www.rainbowsend.ca), a registered charity running a series of social enterprises which employs those who have experienced serious mental illness. Williams dispels fears about employee violence when serious mental illness is a factor. Williams maintains, "When you're employing someone with a lived experience of mental illness there's very little chance of there ever being a display of violence. There's no more chance of violence occurring than there could be in any other workplace."
Studies have shown that people living with mental health conditions are no more likely to engage in violent behaviour than the general population. However, experiences of discrimination in the workplace can result in psychological distress and feelings of low self-esteem, as well as anxiety and depression. Workplace issues like conflict or harassment should be promptly addressed, involving outside assistance when needed. The greatest predictor of violent behaviour is previous aggressive or violent behaviour. Don't excuse it. Don't let it go on. Intervene immediately. Addressing violence should not be dependent on whether an employee has a mental health issue.
Developing a policy that describes acts of aggression and corresponding disciplinary actions can help all employees understand acceptable behaviour, as well as how to respond if they feel threatened. Williams also states that when someone is known to experience mental illness, "Employers should be very open about asking employees what they feel capable of managing and what they're comfortable doing." Being on the same page as the employee and having open lines of communication may help to prevent any negative behaviours from escalating.
Training managers and educating employees on departmental practices, policies, and clarification of expectations related to respectful behaviour is a good start to preventing workplace violence.