Workplace Violence And Conflict Resolution

As I was preparing for a visit to a client to discuss workplace violence, it reminded me of instances over the years that I had an up front knowledge about. Not all were resolved to the satisfaction of the client but they did occur, so I can discuss them here.

One case in Michigan years ago during the transition of the sale of the business was taking place, one of the employees felt slighted in not being informed that the business was changing ownership. After the new owner was announced, and the inventory had been taken to insure the books were correct, the employee proceeded to walk down the line of finished and bagged customers’ clothing using a razor knife to slash the bag and the clothes in ways that made them irreparable. She then dropped the knife and proceeded out of the door with loud remarks that reflected on how she thought she had been treated.

In Illinois, we were counseling a client about how to reintroduce a worker that had been out because another employee had cut him in the heat of an argument in the workplace. Of course, police were involved as well as the state Victims Crime Compensation. The police interviewed all the parties and suggested that the attacker be removed from the business. The following week he returned as if nothing had happened and police were again summoned to escort him away. The injured worker received a check from the Illinois Victims Crime Compensation Fund of $17,500.00 –  when he received the check he never returned.

Another Illinois case involved sexual harassment and racial discrimination, even though a policy book had been in place at this location, the State granted the harasser and discriminator with unemployment compensation after four hearings that took up employer time and money for attorney fees.

In today’s world, we are hearing news of violence in all places, not just work, and it appears to be getting worse. Crime and gun violence are something the employers need to be aware of more and more. Hiring and interviewing processes that could identify a problem can be expensive but are less costly than any of the scenarios above. There are psychological testing materials available through worker’s compensation insurers and other outlets to weed out those that may be a problem, but after a person is hired and during training the manager and owner must sit down to evaluate not only the work being done, but the attitude and how the “fit” works.

Having observed the industry for many years while conducting safety training in different states in all size of dry cleaners, we have developed a sense of how well the trainee listens to instruction, understands safety issues and the general overall demeanor of the person. We discuss trainees with the management if we perceive a problem. Training should be evaluation as well as teaching. One example is the presser or other worker that constantly will not conform for some reason and must be dealt with in a way that either improves the work or be reassigned or relieved. Ultimately it is the employer that must bear the responsibility for a bad mix in the plant and one of the ways management can do this is by what was talked about in management circles in the ’80s as MBWA or Management By Walking Around.

In a small plant, it would be easy to implement MBWA because basically most plants consist of one room divided by clothes or a wall in some cases, but MBWA is more of an attitude than a real practice. Owners do walk around every day and in so doing they see the work, but are they really seeing the worker? That is what the owner/manager needs to think about.

We want to be helpful to the reader and have been working with dry cleaners for the past 25 years seeing and hearing about many of the problems you are facing. We invite any dry cleaner reading this article to ask us questions, chances are we have had them before and we will be happy to offer a reasonable response. We would appreciate any feedback and suggestion as to topic of discussion. The management of Cleaner & Launderer will gladly pass comments to us as they are received.

About Henry Parker

Henry W. D Parker has been a private consultant to the drycleaning industry since 1993, with an emphasis on Federal regulations that relate to labor, and many EPA requirements that apply to the laundry and drycleaning industry. Holding a BS / Marketing degree, Parker spent over thirty years in the Petroleum/Petrochemical industry in refineries, gas plants, offshore platforms, pipelines and chemical plants throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and Canada. This enabled him to gain valuable experience in safety and environmental matters. He is a Certified Environmental Compliance Manager, a Certified Environmental Specialist, as well as being an OSHA Qualified Instructor.Through inspection of drycleaning plants and implementation of his programs many drycleaners have been brought into compliance with the statutes that govern their business. Membership in DLI and many state and local associations enhance his expertise with-in the industry. In 2001 he won the Allied Trades Meritorious Service Award and holds commendations from many state associations. His company, Safety & Environmental Compliance Consultants, Inc. provides valuable services, joining with business owners to bring employee training up-to-date. S&ECC operates with drycleaners in over twenty-five states. For additional information contact Henry W. D. Parker, Safety & Environmental Compliance Consultants; phone (951) 684-7641 or visit