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The Only Guide to Workplace Violence You'll Ever Need

Today I’m going to show everything you’ll ever need to know about workplace violence.

I remember when I first started to learn about workplace violence. I’d go from website to website, book to book, and forum to forum trying to understand All the aspects of workplace violence. It was overwhelming to say the least.

And in this no-nonsense guide I’ll cut out all the noise and show you everything you’ll ever need to know about preventing and responding to workplace violence.

What Exactly Is Workplace Violence?

The textbook definition will make your head spin. Here it is:

“A spectrum of behaviors, 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 from any internal or external relationship.”

-ASIS International

Now you can see why this topic is so confusing. The fact is that workplace violence falls within a broad spectrum of acts. It can be as small as harassment, all the way up to homicide. Categorizing certain behaviors can help clarify things. Let’s take a look at how The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health does this.

Type 1: Criminal Intent

· This is where there is no connection between the business, the employees, or customers.

· Examples are trespassing, robbery, and shoplifting

Type 2: Customer/Client

· This is when the incident occurs between an employee and customer

· The customer can also be indirect parties such as family members, and visitors

· Think of someone upset with a product or service

· This is the most common type to occur in healthcare settings

Type 3: Worker-on-Worker

· Also know as lateral or horizontal violence

· This includes bullying, harassment, and physical threats or attacks

· It frequently begins with verbal and emotional abuse designed to be offensive, vindictive or humiliating

· Most frequently this occurs between supervisors and subordinates

Type 4: Personal Relationship

· This occurs when the offender has a relationship with the employee

· Example: Domestic Violence or office romance

That seems a little easier to digest right? Good. Now, there is one more type that has emerged recently.

Type 5: Ideological Violence

· This is violence that is directed at an organization, its people, and/or property for ideological, religious, or political reasons

· Extremists and/or value-driven groups commit these attacks as a justification for their beliefs.

· Think terrorist groups, activists groups, etc.

Building a Foundation

Now that we have a basic understanding of workplace violence, it is time to build a foundation for a workplace violence program. It starts with how an organization identifies and defines workplace violence.

First, you’ll want to consider the scope the program. For example, retail locations should include prevention and response for robberies (Type 1) due to the nature of their operations. Conversely, a manufacturing facility may be less likely for that category as those locations are not accessible to the public or customers.

This is not to say that you should exclude any one type of workplace violence in your program. The important thing is that the program includes all conduct that could escalate to violence and that the organization will intervene. In other words, the program should have a clear definition of the organization’s definition of workplace violence, as well as outlining behaviors that generate concern for safety.

*Organizations should be careful not to overreach in its definition of workplace violence and limit it to behavior relevant to workplace safety where there is a nexus to the workplace.

Why is a Workplace Violence Program Important to an Organization?

Some may view these programs as a waste of time or not very relevant to their organization. No organization is immune to the wide range of threats and attacks relating to workplace violence.

Here are some benefits of a strong workplace violence program.

· Humanitarian Justifications- When it comes down to it, these programs help save lives and prevent injuries.

· Legal Justifications – An organization has the legal duty to protect their employees and others who interact in the workplace. This is known as ‘Duty of Care.’

· Operational Justifications- Workplace violence incidents affect not only the person who is attacked, but others as well. Research has found that these incidents can have a significant influence on productivity, morale, and public image. [, 2012; Hughes, 2001]

Who Should Be Involved In The Creation of A Workplace Violence Program

By now you are seeing that workplace violence is highly complex. It is a myth that workplace violence is only a SECURITY issue. It has a significant impact on several areas of an organization. In order to create an effective program it is critical to use a multidisciplinary approach to the creation of a program.

Here are the disciplines that should be included during the planning phase:

· Top Leadership

· Human Resources

· Security

· Legal Counsel

· Occupational Safety and Health Personnel

· Union Leaders (Yup! You need to get buy in from the membership)

· Employee Assistant Programs

· Crisis Management Personnel

· Risk Management Personnel

· Business Continuity Personnel

· Public Relations/Corporate Communications

*Studies have found that workplace violence programs that are openly endorsed and supported by leadership have a higher participation rate from employees. [Olson, 2006]

Planning A Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Here are the steps you will need to take to create a solid workplace violence program for your organization.

Step 1: Needs Assessment

The purpose of the Needs Assessment is to identify, evaluate, and prioritize the presence of risk of violence in your organization.

First, you will want to look at both internal and external sources that expose your organization to violence. Make sure you consider the relationship between these factors so that you can prioritize the types of workplace violence from most likely to least.

Examples of internal and external sources:

· Current and past employees

· Customers

· Vendors

· Contractors and others working on behalf of the organization

· Friends, family members, and intimate partners

· Visitors and guests

· Individuals in opposition to the success of the organization (internal and external)

Other considerations:

· Do employees work late nights or times when it is dark?

· Do employees work alone or remotely?

· Is the workplace located in a high crime area?

· Do employees handle cash or other valuable goods/assets?

· Is the location open to the public?

· Does the location sell alcohol or other intoxicants?

· Are there any current or past employees who are disgruntled and exhibited concerning behaviors?

· Do you provide services to individuals experiencing medical or psychological issues?

· Is the location a healthcare facility?

· Are there any current or ongoing issues that create conflict within the organization?

Existing Policy Review

Part of your assessment should cover a review of the organization’s existing prevention and intervention procedures.

Considerations during this review should include:

· Is there an existing policy in place?

· Does management support prevention efforts? (There should be top-down support)

· Is the policy enforced in a professional manner?

· Does the policy identify clear lines of appropriate behavior?

· Are employees encouraged to report concerning behaviors?

· Does the policy require periodic workplace violence training?

· Do employees know and understand the policy, to include how to report?

· Are complaints managed through a process to ensure nothing falls through the cracks?

· Does the policy address incidents that occur in remote/off-site locations?

· Are the employees trained to identify warning signs of violent behavior?

· Are employees trained in de-escalation?

· Is the policy reviewed periodically to determine if it is working?

Physical Security Review

Physical security plays a vital role in preventing workplace violence. Part of the assessment should include an evaluation of the existing physical security measures in place. Factors to consider are:

· Accessibility: Are entrances and exits clearly marked? Are they controlled to prevent unauthorized access?

· Are there security guards on premise?

· Do visitors sign in and out, and/or accompanied by employees?

· Is there sufficient lighting?

· Are evacuation route maps posted to help employees escape in case of an emergency?

· Does the location have safe shelters in the event evacuation is not possible?

· Is the parking lot secured and well lit?

· Are panic buttons easily accessible?

· Are there an objects blocking the safe and efficient evacuation from the location?

· Can doors and windows be secured?

· Is there a notification system in case of emergency?

Step 2: Elements of the Policy

One failure most organizations have is that they only discuss the workplace violence policy with new hires. It is vital that the policy be communicated with all employees at least annually.

The policy should be tailored to the size and needs of the organization. Here are some topics the policy should include:

· A clear definition of unacceptable behavior

· Rules concerning weapons on site?

· Mandate for the immediate reporting of concerning behavior or circumstances that could be indicators of workplace violence

· Provide for several methods for reporting

· Language ensuring that all reports will be handled immediately by the organization

· Outlines appropriate disciplinary action for violations of policy

· While a ‘zero tolerance’ policy is valuable, that term should be avoided in the policy as it has been shown to reduce the reporting of concerning behaviors

Additionally, the policy should be congruent with related polices such as:

· Anti-harassment & discrimination

· Substance Abuse

· Code of Conduct and Ethics

· Electronic/Computer Communication and Use

· Workspace Inspection

Threat Management Team

The program should include the creation and identification of a threat management team. This team will be tasked with periodically evaluating the program. Team members should be selected based on their experience, qualifications, and their ability to authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization.

Organizations are encouraged to seek outside help if there is a void in experience of qualifications within the team.

A protocol should be established as to the response and handling of complaints to include how the incident is investigated and resolved by the team. Examples of protocols include but are not limited to:

· The team member who will receive the incoming reports and who the report is

escalated to

· The team member who will conduct the initial information about the complaint/incident

· Circumstances that identify whether the incident will be addressed by the team or human resources (ie. The incident is determined to be non-workplace violence)

· Possible initial actions available for the team to take upon receiving the complaint

· Circumstances where investigations will be made

· Threshold where the complaint exceeds the team’s experience and outside help should be sought

· Threshold where law enforcement will be contacted

· Intervention and mitigation strategies to be used by the team

· Documentation process of the complaint or actions of the team

· Post incident review of the incident and handling by the team

· Review process for the protocols

Emergencies and Critical Incidents

The program should include procedures for events that require an immediate response. This would be in progress acts of violence such as robbery, battery, or active shooter.


The program needs to include initial and continuing training for all personnel to include senior management, supervisors, and employees.

Additionally, advanced training should be conducted for specific personnel such as the threat team, security, human resources, top management, supervisors, and legal.

Additional Considerations

Organizations in high-risk workplaces should include additional safeguards and procedures specific to their circumstances. Examples would be healthcare facilities or locations open all night.


They say the devils in the details. All incidents whether sustained or not should be documented with detail. These reports should be kept secured and protected with the highest degree of confidentiality. It should only be shared with those identified as necessary for management and follow up of the incident.

Additional Prevention Strategies

Here are some other areas where strategies should be established and reviewed:

· Employee screening

· Physical Security Measures

· Conflict Resolution Process

· Employee Assistance Program

Program Implementation

Here are the steps needed to ensure an efficient and successful implementation of the program.

Implementation Team

Small groups should be created to carry out the implementation of the program. This group should consist of key players in the organization such as human resources, security personnel, legal, and other stakeholders unique to the organization.

Designing and Planning the Program

The implementation group should create a realistic outline for the program. The outline should be based on the organization’s culture and needs identified during the initial assessment.

The group should consider:

· Any requirements or recommendations found in industry standards

· Legal and regulatory requirements

· Contractual requirements

· Any other relevant information from outside sources that could influence the organization

* Organizations are encouraged to seek the guidance of outside experts during the planning phase

Incident Management Protocols

Key elements should include:

· Designating the Threat Management Team along with their roles and responsibilities

· Developing protocols for response and management of incidents

· Conducting training

· Establishing a working relationship with first responders

Creation and Distribution of Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

Once the policy and implementation plan has been approved by senior management, it’s time to roll it out to the organization.

The policy should be disseminated in various forms.

· Mailings, emails, posters, and announcements

· Included in employee training (new and current)