What are the signs of workplace violence?

What are the signs of workplace violence?

Workplace violence is still a real worry for both companies and employees. Workplace violence is described as any act or threat of physical harm, intimidation, or harassment, and it can be committed by anybody, including clients, coworkers, friends, and even strangers.

Every year, there are approximately two million instances of workplace violence, costing over one million working days. Employees that work alone or in small groups, trade money with the general public, perform healthcare services, are in locations that provide alcohol, operate at night, or are located in high-crime regions run a higher chance of experiencing workplace violence.

What is workplace violence?

Causes of workplace violence

Workplace violence is “a spectrum of behavior—including overt acts of violence, threats, and other conduct—that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others (such as customers, clients, and business associates) on-site or off-site when related to the organization.”

Bullying and harassment at work are also regarded as forms of workplace violence by many organizations. Domestic abuse can also manifest outside of the home in the form of attacks, threats, or other behaviors by people with whom employees have relationships. It covers any action that is physically aggressive, violent, or threatening, including intimidation and attempts to inspire fear in others, as well as any verbal or physical threats.

Related: Violence at the workplace: A Guide to HR Professionals

Signs of workplace violence


When a person makes direct, veiled, or conditional threats of harm.


A person constantly makes slight references to others. They are never happy with what is going on. Consistently unreasonable and overreacts to feedback and criticism. They blow everything out of proportion. Individuals tend to take comments personally and turn them into grudges.

Intimidation and control-oriented

Individuals feel a need to constantly force their opinion on others. Having a compulsive need to control situations. They use intimidation to get their way; can be physical or verbal. (Examples: fear tactics, verbal threats, harassment).


A person thinks other employees are out to get them. They think there is a conspiracy to all functions in society. They make comments about being persecuted or being a victim of injustice.

Angry, argumentative, and lacks impulse control

An individual has many hate and anger issues on and off the job with coworkers, friends, family, or the government. They are frequently involved in confrontations, are belligerent, and argue with others, including authority figures. This person demonstrates low impulse control (slamming or throwing things, cursing, and threatening, and is physically animated with aggressive gestures.


An individual does not take responsibility for any of their behaviors, faults, or mistakes; it’s always someone or something else that is to blame. They make excuses and blame others, the organization, or the system for their actions.

Antisocial behaviors

This person has a fascination with violence and acceptance of violence as a way to handle situations; they applaud violent acts portrayed in the media such as racial incidents, domestic violence, active shooting sprees, or executions. They may have issues with law enforcement. May demonstrate an obsession with the killing power of weapons and their effect on people. They may demonstrate a pattern of behavior that shows a disregard for the rights of others.


Makes statements like “he’ll get his”, “what goes around comes around” or “one of these days I’ll make them pay.” Verbalizes hope for something bad to happen to others, especially those they have a grudge against.

Bizarre behavior

The person is quirky, strange, considered weird, and behaves unusually. Their presence makes others feel uneasy and uncomfortable. This behavior by itself doesn’t mean a person will become violent but coupled with other signs may be an indicator.


A person is experiencing extreme desperation with family, finances, or personal problems; they are making comments of feeling “at the end of their rope” or “there’s no other way to deal with it.” They seem backed into a corner with no options.

Related: Workplace violence examples

How to handle workplace violence

Violence at the workplace: A Guide to HR Professionals

Workplace violence is still a real worry for both companies and employees. Employees that work alone or in small groups, trade money with the general public, perform healthcare services, are in locations that provide alcohol, operate at night, or are located in high-crime regions run a higher chance of experiencing workplace violence.

Related: How can we prevent workplace violence

The policy

There are several ways to lower the risk of violence at work in your organization. The first step is to create a policy that addresses workplace violence, outlining how and where employees should report any suspicious or alarming behavior as well as illustrations of what is prohibited. The policy should also state that employees must notify HR right away if they receive a victim protection order designating the company as their place of employment.

A policy that forbids the use of weapons at work or when employees are conducting business off-site should be taken into consideration. Employees who are legally allowed to transport firearms and other weapons on company property in their vehicles should also be subject to the policy.

Pre-employment criminal background

Pre-employment criminal background checks and rules can both help reduce the likelihood of violence in the workplace. Of all, not everyone who has committed a crime in the past is certain to do so again, and not all violent outbursts can be predicted by previous behavior. However, a person who has a history of aggressive behavior may be more likely to do so in the future. Remember that companies should evaluate each circumstance specifically and how it relates to the desired position rather than applying a policy to all applicants who have committed certain crimes.

Maintaining communication

Maintaining communication with your staff to spot those who seem to be experiencing significant stress, anxiety, and/or depression is another efficient method for preventing violence in the workplace.

When workers display these signs of difficulty, HR experts should consult with management to decide how to address the situation most effectively. The employee should often be sent to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs are private programs offered by employers to enhance worker health, safety, and well-being. Numerous employee options, including free counseling sessions, legal and financial consultation, eldercare services, wellness programs, drug and alcohol treatment, and adoption support, are among the services that can be provided. Employees and their families typically have access to the resources. Employers who don’t already offer an EAP to their staff members would be wise to do so since it has a low benefit-cost and can stop employee distress from worsening.

Early Assistance

It’s crucial to keep in mind that it can be challenging to anticipate when someone will turn aggressive. Keep in mind that not all people will exhibit warning signs, and consider the context of their behavior. In general, early warning indicators can include dramatic emotional fluctuations, frequent blunders in work, resistance to admit problems with job performance, social isolation, grudges, and irrational outbursts. Employers are expected to exercise their best judgment in every scenario even if each one is different. These actions may be troubling at any time, but early intervention should be taken into consideration, particularly if the action is novel, has changed, or has escalated beyond the worker’s usual pattern.

Unless the situation is serious, such as if the employee is threatening violence or seems suicidal, employers are generally advised against requiring an employee to seek therapy through an EAP. Nevertheless, taking unfavorable action against an employee who declines a required EAP referral may give rise to disability discrimination claims. Before acting, employers that find themselves in this scenario should consult with an employment lawyer.

Instead of jumping to disciplinary action or termination when an employee’s performance or attendance falls short of expectations, HR professionals and supervisors should take an empathic stance. If they feel supported, this strategy can frequently lower legal claims and, in some situations, avoid workplace violence. Discover the underlying reason behind the shortage.

For instance, does the employee’s depression contribute to their absences or tardiness from work? Do they have to deal with a death in the family or a divorce? Do they have a history of sobriety yet recently relapsed? Do they experience domestic abuse or homelessness? Numerous distinct personal issues could be the cause of their work-related difficulties.

Alternatively, a flaw in a work process, such as a lack of training, a mismatch in talents at the time of employment, or ambiguous communication from the employee’s manager, could be to blame. Once the underlying issue has been located, the best course of action can be decided upon, whether it be a heart-to-heart discussion, the provision of resources, or, if necessary, disciplinary action.

Consider it Serious

Never should anyone’s safety be in danger. If an employee’s behavior worsens and they start threatening others or acting intimidatingly, the employer must respond right once. Employers should adhere to their policies and processes for handling bullying, harassment, and violence in the workplace. Now is the moment to take action if an employer doesn’t have a policy or defined processes, or if it has been some time since they were reviewed. Additionally, employers must make sure that staff members are aware of and comprehend these rules. Even while employers wish to prevent office gossip, they need to make sure that staff members are aware of the proper channels for raising issues.

All workers should receive training on how to spot possible threats of workplace violence and how to treat them seriously. Training covers not only potential warning signals and how to react to an incident but also preventative measures that one can do to help ensure the safety of others. Precautions to take include:

  • Preventing illegal visitors from entering the building
  • Notifying the security of unauthorized people
  • Avoid conflict whenever you can
  • Notifying HR of any suspected domestic violence or stalking issues
  • Understanding facility exits
  • Being familiar with security contact information and/or security alert buttons
  • Notifying someone if you are working overtime
  • Avoid working alone yourself
  • If possible, avoid leaving the facility alone, especially at night
  • How to report any suspicious conduct or activity

Related: Causes of workplace violence

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