Workplace Violence: A Troubling Reality

Violence in the workplace has become the second leading cause of all work related fatalities. 

Consider this:

  • One-sixth of violent crimes occur in the workplace. There are about 2 million incidents a year and 780 deaths in 2011. Guns are involved in 80 percent of deaths.
  • As many as 18,000 people are assaulted at work each week.
  • Certain jobs pose a higher risk for violence, including those where employees handle cash, work alone, late-night or early morning hours, work in high-crime areas, or guard valuables.

Employee-related violence in the workplace occurs when someone reacts to a trigger in a violent manner. These triggers can be related to the workplace. For example:

  • When lay-offs occur, affected employees can react violently.
  • Employees who are terminated can also become violent—either at the time of firing or later.
  • Current employees who are warned about poor behavior may have a violent reaction.
  • Employees who receive a less-than-satisfactory performance review may take exception in a physical manner. 
  • Conflicts among employees can sometimes escalate into violent behavior.

Understand and follow your organization’s security procedures for handling these incidents, including exit interviews, denying access to computer files, or escorting former employees off the premises.  Personal problems can also result in violence at work from either employees or from their contacts outside of work.

In order to respond effectively to potential incidents, first recognize warning signs:

  • Co-workers, clients, or customers who threaten to get even.
  • People who talk excessively about violence in the news, movies, on TV, or about weapons.
  • People who raise their voices, use abusive language, or who blame others for problems. 

When signs of potential violence are observed, immediate steps should be in your security plan, but basic tips include:

  • Remain calm and show respect. Speak in a moderate tone of voice.
  • Focus on the problem by asking for details about the situation and possible solutions.
  • If you still feel the person may become violent, alert a co-worker.
  • Report the situation immediately according to established procedures.
  • Never argue with an agitated person or tell them they’re wrong to be upset.
  • Never raise your voice or mimic the angry person’s behavior.

You and your employees should also follow these security procedures:

  • Report to the proper authority any strangers you see anywhere inside or outside the building.
  • Make sure visitors are escorted the entire time they’re on the premises.
  • Report any missing items or signs of a break-in immediately.

Employee terminations can result in violence, whatever the reason for the discharge. Whenever you must discharge an employee for violent behavior, choose an office near an exit in which to conduct the termination.  Request that a security person be present or nearby, and if necessary, obtain a restraining order that bars the person from company premises after a termination. 

In some instances, violent outbursts may be avoided by giving an employee proper notice of any performance or behavioral issues through progressive discipline.  Make sure you know what kind of assistance your organization offers through the Employee Assistance Program so that you can offer employees the appropriate counseling options. 

For additional information on violence in the workplace and how to prevent it, check out the Insurance Information Institute, this document from the FBI, and OSHA’s Safety and Health webpage on Workplace Violence.