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Associations and Workplace Security: How Far Does a Tenant’s Responsibility Extend?


By Peter Brohoski, Senior Managing Director, Global Occupier Services and Jim Rosenbluth, President, Analytic Risk Solutions LLC

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, each year two million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence. In 2015, 417 people were fatally injured in work-related attacks. That’s about 16% of the 4,821 workplace deaths that year.

It is understandable that certain occupations are inherently dangerous. Taxi drivers, for instance, with heightened exposure to the general population and few built-in protections, are 20 times more likely to experience workplace violence than those in other professions. But what about the gleaming glass towers in downtown business districts, or ambitious mixed-use developments that attract a vibrant, well-heeled crowd? Association tenants and employees within those settings are not immune.

In a time when news reports of active shooter, domestic terrorism and workplace violence incidents are becoming increasingly commonplace, it is important to examine how our changing security risk environment affects both tenants and property operations and how security issues affecting any one tenant can impact everyone in the building.

Tenants’ responsibilities for providing their employees a safe and secure working environment vary depending on the type of access control practiced by building management. Large multi-tenant office buildings typically operate on a controlled access model in which tenants are issued access credentials and visitors are screened and their purpose for visiting the property is verified prior to being granted access to tenanted floors. Smaller office buildings typically employ an open access model where anyone can enter the building and take elevators to any floor without being screened. Other properties, such as mixed-use complexes, operate on a hybrid model where access is controlled in parts of the property but not in others. Each model poses unique challenges and places differing responsibilities on both property managers and their security staffs, as well as tenants.

Workplace violence occurs for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the organization but all of which can place the organization’s employees and the rest of the building’s tenants and visitors at great risk. It is incumbent on all tenants to proactively manage risk by instituting common-sense security measures to reduce the likelihood of a violent incident occurring.

Some of these security measures include:

  • Controlling access to an office suite if the base building operates on an open access model;
  • Configuring office spaces to minimize the possibility that an armed intruder can gain access to where the majority of employees are housed;
  • Encouraging employees to report alarming or disturbing behavior to management that could predict a future violent outburst;
  • Asking employees to advise management of any threatening situations outside of work that could impact them while at work; and
  • Promptly notifying building management of any threats to tenant employees, regardless of how credible, so that the risk can be assessed and appropriate security measures implemented

But what about associations, specifically?

In an article recently published by, Cushman & Wakefield’s Jon Olmstead discussed the trend of many associations opting to move from high rent districts in Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. to older buildings in secondary markets with less police presence and security amenities and the implications of that decision. He recommended a few baseline security measures that associations could consider.

“At a minimum, associations should ensure that access to the office is controlled with key cards,” Olmstead said. “Another measure is an office panic button, which can be installed at the reception desk or in other areas to alert the police of a dangerous situation, or trigger certain office doors to close.” He also added that getting to know other tenants in the building is critical, particularly if they represent a controversial issue. It is important to consider that bystander risk when selecting a new location.

It is not necessary to spend each day at the workplace living in fear. However, it is important to be proactive and well-informed when considering the safety of tenants and employees. A formal human resources plan coupled with a thoughtful strategy for the physical premises exponentially reduces potentially harmful workplace incidents.

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