Friday, January 07, 2005

Bethlehem City Employees Learn Workplace Violence Prevention

A City Hall fistfight in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that cost two supervisors their jobs has spawned a series of workshops on violence in the workplace. The administration sent memos to all department heads about the seminars, requiring all employees to attend. Fifteen hourlong seminars will be offered to the city's employees by Bethlehem community police officer Wade Haubert, Human Resources Director Jean Zwiefel said.

Both Dana Grubb, deputy director of community development, and Harvey Joseph, environmental health director, were given an ultimatum to either retire or be fired after the Oct. 28 fight. Dennis Reichard, city business administrator, was summoned to the scene of the fight in the Health Bureau office immediately after it ended and said employees were badly shaken from the incident. Grubb suffered a broken nose and was bleeding. Chairs and papers were scattered, and coffee was spilled on the floor.''People were scared; they were stunned,'' Reichard said. ''There were people crying. They couldn't believe that it happened.''While the fight was occurring, Haubert was meeting with officials from IQE Inc. about making a Powerpoint presentation to the company's employees about violence in the workplace.''When I went to teach my first class with them, they asked why aren't we teaching this in the city?'' Haubert said. ''After the incident occurred, it became a much higher priority.''Haubert said he went immediately to the Human Resources Department to schedule the presentation for city employees.

The presentation outlines city responsibilities and procedures for employees and identifies what constitutes violence.Haubert said this may be the first seminar but hopes it's not the last.''This is something I would hope we would do every two years,'' Haubert said. ''A lot of times I don't think people realize they are in a public place and a crime has occurred. ''Not all employees, though, think it's necessary to have ongoing training in workplace violence. Sherri Penchishen, the city's director of health education, said additional training probably won't curtail a problem that, for the most part, doesn't exist.''As far as it goes, it's good, but I don't expect this problem to be recurring,'' Penchishen said. ''This was a unique incident that was building for years.''

Callahan said the city has an Employee Assistance Program that includes anger management for those employees who feel they need it. The seminar, he said, is important to underscore the administration's zero-tolerance policy when it comes to intimidation and workplace violence.''No one should have to come to work with the fear of a violent act taking place,'' Callahan said. ''We want to be proactive in looking at this issue.

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