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by Michelle Fleckner / February 12, 2019

Millions of workers report being victimized by workplace violence every year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. While some employees resist reporting violent acts due to fear of retaliation, others remain silent because they are unclear about the types of behaviors classified as acts of violence. When business leaders and their employees understand the definition of violence, when they are empowered to identify the potential warning signs, the risk of violence in the workplace is significantly reduced.

Defining and Recognizing Workplace Aggression

“Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” 

~ United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

 To protect your associates from violence in the workplace, it is often necessary to detail the actions and behaviors that your company deems unacceptable. Just a few of the possible actions that are typically identified as workplace violence include: 

  • Physical Assault – demonstrating intent to injure with or without physical contact
  • Battery – touching without consent, with or without injury
  • Verbal Harassment - direct or indirect threats, offensive language, or threatening gestures
  • Disorderly Conduct - throwing objects, destroying property, slamming doors, or shouting


Identifying the Four Types of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence typically falls into one of four categories. Identifying the types of workplace violence posing the greatest threat to workers can help employers implement the best policies and practices to keep their associates safe. The four types of workplace violence include: 

  • Worker-on-Worker Violence

    The perpetrator of worker-on-worker violence is an employee (past or present) of the company where the violence occurs. Workplace violence may take the form of a physical altercation, verbal threats, or harassment. Worker-on-worker violence is typically the result of a work-related 
  • Customer or Client Violence

    This type of workplace violence involves aggression committed by an individual who is being served by a business. Police officers, retail workers, and patient caregivers are at the highest risk of client violence. 
  • Criminal Intent

    Typically, violence of criminal intent occur as the result of a related crime. The violent perpetrator has little relationship to the business or the employees impacted by their actions. Robbery, trespassing, shoplifting, and acts of terrorism fall into the category of criminal intent. 
  • Personal Relationship Violence

    When workplace violence is the result of a personal relationship, it is less likely that the perpetrator has a connection with the targeted business, but has a personal relationship with a victim who works there. Women are at a higher risk of relationship violence than men.


Establishing a Zero-Tolerance Workplace Environment

While no establishment is immune to the potential for violence, employers can help reduce the risk by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence. The most effective policies provide definitions or descriptions of non-tolerated behaviors and guidance to those who experience or witness violence in the workplace.

 Many employers include their zero-tolerance policies within their employee handbook or standards of operation manual.  While addressing workplace violence, these documents should specify: 

  • An outline of unacceptable workplace conduct
  • Policies protecting workers who report inappropriate conduct
  • Guidelines for appropriate action for those witnessing or experiencing violence in the workplace
  • Industry relevant Information outlining best safety practices to protect workers from violence 

Reducing the Risk of Violence in the Workplace

While employee awareness and clearly defined policies can help reduce the incidence of unreported violence in the workplace, awareness alone will not eliminate the threat. To further protect associates from danger, many employers incorporate awareness training into their corporate culture by: 

  • Training associates to identify and report “red-flag” indicators of potential violence
  • Providing instruction, resources, and training for Active Shooter protocol
  • Providing a workplace environment that minimizes resentment and hostility
  • Providing business appropriate security measures such as photo ID tags and key card entry to minimize unauthorized access
  • Installing video surveillance and security cameras to deter violence
  • Establishing business specific safety practices such as staffing at least two workers per shift and reducing the amount of cash kept on hand 

Training Managers and Staff to Identify and Report “Red-Flag” Behavior

While violence is nearly impossible to predict, experts have identified several indicators common to those prone to violent acts. Verbal threats and behavioral changes often precede an assault. It’s important for managers, workers, and human resource personnel to consider the following behaviors or circumstances as signs of a potential threat: 

  • Antisocial behavior or difficulty getting along with others
  • Expressing paranoid thoughts or routinely accusing others of plotting against them
  • Frequently justifying stories of violence with malicious references and victim blaming
  • Consistently playing “victim” by filing multiple grievances against neighbors or coworkers
  • Possessing a cold, controlling nature and obsession with power
  • Preoccupation or fascination with stories depicting violent or aggressive acts
  • A history of unaddressed chemical dependencies or criminal activity
  • Life-altering changes including job layoff or termination
  • Displaying extreme behavioral changes (the quiet become enraged, the extroverted turn sullen)

 While there are currently no federal laws that require businesses to prevent violence in the workplace, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require employers to provide their associates with a safe working environment.

OSHA recommends that employers include a zero-tolerance policy within their employee literature.  For custom Employee Handbooks, Human Resources, Accounting, and Payroll services, contact Platinum Group. Our innovative solutions streamline these essential processes so you can spend more time focusing on the task of running your business. Select the following link to schedule a call with us.

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Tags: Employee Lawsuits workplace communications employee well being Workplace Violence

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Michelle Fleckner

Michelle Fleckner

Michelle joined the team in 2017 as VP of HCM Solutions. Her interest is in helping companies identify areas where streamlining and automating would benefit their HR & Payroll departments. Her strengths are organization planning, revenue generation, customer retention & business process automation.