Workplace Violence

By:  Kim Adamson

What is Workplace Violence? According to OSHA, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, vendors, and visitors. Acts of violence and other injuries are currently the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S.  Workplace violence may also include acts that damage an organization’s resources or capabilities. Workplace violence is a significant concern for employers and employees nationwide. A 2022 study conducted by the ONTIC Center for Protective Intelligence reports that 88% of respondents agree that organizations are experiencing a dramatic increase in physical threat activity compared to the beginning of 2021. The increase relates to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated requirements, lockdowns, job losses, rising extremism, and social and political issues.

Employers need to develop policies and reporting procedures that encourage an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable reporting work-related and personal issues that may affect their safety in the workplace. Employees must feel comfortable reporting to their employer if a co-worker, boss, spouse, or companion has threatened them. Employees must know their employer takes the situation seriously and will handle it immediately, thoroughly, and confidentially.

Employers might want to set up a hotline where employees can anonymously report concerns. Additionally, the employer must be committed to providing a safe, violence-free workplace. The company’s handbook should contain a workplace violence-prevention policy that clearly identifies that the company will not tolerate employees engaging in physical confrontations, verbal threats, threatening behaviors, or any other hostile, aggressive, intimidating, destructive, or violent actions toward another employee, client, or vendor while at the workplace or company functions. The policy should also prohibit possessing weapons on any of its property. Employees need to know that any policy violation is subject to discipline, including termination.

Training about the company’s safety and workplace violence prevention policies, including recognizing risks and issues, and ways to prevent or diffuse volatile situations, should be provided to all employees upon hire and at least annually after that. All staff should know how to recognize risky situations and how to react, and when 911 should be contacted. Some examples of potentially violent situations include harassment, stalking, bullying, threats, substance abuse, terminating volatile employees, and active shooter.

An initial prevention step employers should take to ensure the safety of employees is to conduct background checks in their standard hiring process that complies with Federal, state, and local laws. Many states and cities have ban-the-box laws that prohibit employers from asking about a candidate’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made. Employers must assess an individual’s criminal history and how it relates to the job. Candidates with a previous criminal record should not automatically be excluded and must be given a fair chance.

Employers can also reduce the risk of workplace violence by addressing drug and alcohol abuse. Substance abuse can alter an employee’s mental state and possibly cause them to react impulsively in a manner uncommon for them. Substance abuse has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. and can affect anyone regardless of age, occupation, economic circumstances, ethnic background, or gender. A company’s employee handbook should contain a drug-free and alcohol-free policy in the workplace and that compliance with the policy is a condition of employment.

HR and leadership should be prepared to refer employees to the company’s EAP (employee assistance program) in response to reports of workplace violence issues and behavior and substance abuse concerns.

Recent Statistics about Workplace Violence

  • There are approximately 2 million victims of workplace violence each year In the U.S.
  • A 2022 SHRM survey of U.S. workers found that 28% of workers have witnessed aggressive interactions between coworkers (20%), and 8% have been personally involved.
  • Many employers consider workplace harassment and bullying as workplace violence.  94% of U.S. workers have been bullied at least once in the workplace.
    • Of the 94%, 51.1% said a manager did the bullying, 23.3% said they were bullied with aggressive emails, 20.2% were bullied through negative gossip by coworkers, and 17.8% said they felt bullied after being yelled at.
  • Assaults and threats of physical violence make up most of the workplace violence in the U.S. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey in 2019, approximately 396,000 assaults, 51,000 rapes, sexual assaults, and 84,000 robberies occur annually in U.S. workplaces.
  • According to OSHA, occupations that exchange money or directly interact with the public are most at risk for workplace violence.
    • Robberies account for 85% of all workplace violence deaths.
    • 75% of all workplace violence incidents involve healthcare and social service, 12 times higher than the rest of the U.S. workforce, due to their close interaction with the public and limited workplace protection.
  • In 2020, workplace violence assaults resulted in 20,050 injuries and 392 fatalities.
  • In 2019, 9% of all fatal work injuries in the U.S. were related to workplace violence.
  • 68% of 2,000 workers polled worldwide feel unsafe at their workplace.
  • 75% of remote employees are skeptical about workplace safety, and 23% said they would look for a new job if required to return to the worksite.
  • Approximately 25% of workplace violence incidents go unreported by businesses, according to OSHA.
  • American businesses lose an average of $250 to $330 billion annually due to violence in the workplace.