Workplace Violence

What is workplace violence?

Workplace violence is best defined as follows: violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.

Many people believe that workplace violence arises out of a dispute or adverse interpersonal relations between employees and employers.  But, in order to better understand workplace violence, and then to implement a prevention plan, it is necessary to categorize it more specifically.  According to OSHA, there are three categories of workplace violence. 

Type I- Stranger Violence

Stranger-versus-employee violence, such as armed robbery, accounts for 60% of all workplace homicides.

Type II- Client Violence

Client violence occurs when a client whom the organization serves attacks an employee.  A staff or faculty member being attacked by a student best exemplifies client violence.  It is estimated that 30% of all workplace homicides are a result of client violence

Type III- Employee Violence

Employee violence occurs when an employee attacks another employee.  This accounts for 10% of all workplace homicides.  The term employee may also refer to temporaries and subcontractors who spend a significant about of their workday in your workplace.  This category also includes domestic violence.

Recognizing the Potentially Violent Employee

In order to reduce the threat of violence in the workplace, supervisors and managers must recognize behavioral warning signs of a potentially violent employee.  A popular psychological view of the potentially violent employee focuses primarily on attitudes and behaviors.

General characteristics of a violent worker:

  • White male
  • Between the ages of 30 and 40
  • Demonstrates low self-esteem
  • Considered a loner, socially isolated
  • Exhibits a disgruntled attitude regarding perceived injustices in the workplace
  • May complain regularly about poor working conditions or an unsatisfactory working environment
  • May complain of heightened stress at work
  • May demonstrate a migratory job history
  • May have been in chronic labor-management disputes
  • May cause fear or unrest among co-workers and supervisors
  • May have made threats against co-workers, supervisors or the organization
  • May demonstrate a fascination with military or paramilitary subjects
  • May be a gun or weapon collector
  • May demonstrate excessive interest in media reports of violence, especially in the workplace
  • May have an unstable family life
  • Demonstrates few, if any, healthy outlets for rage
  • Has requested some kind of help in the past
  • May demonstrate poor temper-control
  • May exhibit numerous unresolved physical or emotional injuries or have a history of numerous unresolved physical or emotional claims against the organization
  • May have drug and/or alcohol abuse history
  • May exhibit psychiatric symptoms

It is important to recognize that there are a number of exceptions to the profile listed above.  One should not assume that the presence of one or more of these characteristics indicates that an individual is capable of murder.  Nor, should one assume that the absence of several characteristics indicates that an individual is incapable of murder.

Identifying the Troubled Employee

Early identification of the troubled employee can help reduce the incidence of violence in the workplace.  An employee who exhibits any of these indicators is not necessarily an individual who is prone to violence; however, violence is always a possibility when these warning signs occur. It is a supervisor's duty to make the appropriate intervention should one or more of these signs occur:

  • Excessive tardiness or absences.  It is significant if an employee whose previous work history is unremarkable for lateness or excessive absences begins to reduce his or her workday by leaving early, leaving work without authorization, taking an extended lunch break or increasingly misses full days of work.
  • Increased need for supervision.  An employee who requires increasing amounts of supervision, rather than less, may be an individual who is signaling a need for help.  Managers should be alert to such a change and consider a constructive intervention when appropriate.
  • Reduced productivity.  There is reason for concern if a previously efficient and productive employee experiences a sudden or sustained drop in performance. 
  • Inconsistency.  Employees are typically quite consistent in their work habits and, should this change, the manager has reason to suspect the individual is in need of assistance.
  • Strained workplace relationships.  An employee who has previously been a "team player" and now has difficulty getting along with co-workers may be experiencing a problem outside the workplace.  The supervisor should consider approaching this employee.  A worker who exhibits disruptive behavior is in need of immediate intervention.
  • Inability to concentrate.  An employee in trouble may be distracted while at work.
  • Changes in health or hygiene.  Disregarding one's own health or grooming is frequently an indicator of psychological distress.
  • Increased accidents or poor quality control.  May signify distraction while at work.
  • Sudden mood changes.  An employee whose mood shifts frequently or suddenly may be experiencing the effects of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Excessive crying or acting depressed.  While not all persons who experience depression are prone to violence, a supervisor may help an employee to seek assistance when appropriate.

While an employer should never attempt to diagnose an employee's problem (i.e., "I think you are depressed," or "You have a drug problem."), a manager can focus a discussion on an employee's work performance and offer assistance in resolving those problems.  For example, a manager might say, "You have been missing a lot of work lately.  I don't know why you are having trouble getting here, but it may help if you talk to an employee assistance counselor."

For more information about safety tips, contact Captain Robert Gibson at 588-5030 e-mail 

Last modified: Mar 19, 2013