Understanding Workplace Violence and What You Can Do

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Women face a greater likelihood of encountering workplace violence than men.

Workplace violence victim: Anyone who has been injured, harmed, or who has suffered in some way due to acts of another while on the job or due to job related factors.

Victims are not only those who are the direct targets of a violent act. They may also be those who innocently witness the act. For example, someone who witnesses a verbal or physical attack on a co-worker may suffer emotionally, mentally or physically as a result of what they saw. Victims may also be the unfortunate innocent person who is just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Types of violence: Among the types of violent acts committed in the workplace, the following are the most common:





Twisting of limbs





Property damage


These are very traumatic experiences for the victims. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the above listed incidents resulted in victims taking 3-30 days off of work. The violent episode impacts virtually every aspect of the victim’s life. Because of the far-reaching effect on every aspect of the workplace, the problem must not be taken lightly. Domestic disputes are increasingly becoming a factor in workplace violence because the partner is easy to locate at work… Domestic Violence and Other Factors Domestic disputes have become an important factor in workplace violence incidents. An angry spouse or significant other may come to the workplace because his/her partner is easy to find there. And often when a spouse is served with divorce papers or a court order of protection they are more likely to attempt to go to the workplace and confront the employee. And these violent incidents often affect and involve other innocent victims.

Unique phenomena are the growing numbers of workers who tend to define who they are by their jobs. This presents challenges for you as the employer when conducting reviews. Since the review or appraisal is part of your company process, an employee may view this as a personal judgment and feel angry or resentful.

And an employee who is unexpectedly fired may seek revenge upon those who terminated them. Some employees return months or years later to seek revenge.

Societal Factors
Much of what we all see in the media today is violent in nature. The underlying message seems to imply approval of violence in our society. Weapons are also more available than in recent years. And drugs and alcohol play a role in violent situations.

As violent acts become commonplace, society becomes desensitized to the violence. And violence becomes more acceptable. This impacts everyone at work, in the community, and the home. It then becomes the responsibility of every worker to help prevent violence in the workplace where possible. Tolerance of violence leads to an increase of violence. According to the National Institute of Safety employees at risk for violence in the workplace include:

Delivering goods and services

Working late or early morning hours

Working alone

Guarding valuable property and goods

Dealing with violent or volatile situations

Those employees with the most frequent interaction with the public are those who experience the highest incidence of workplace violence. Remember that it can happen anywhere, in any workplace at any time. Having a greater knowledge is a successful tool in dealing with workplace violence.

Common Traits of a Perpetrator are:

Easily frustrated

Anti-social behavior

Very Defensive

Has low self-esteem

Not adaptable

Consistently avoids blame

Holds grudges

Lacks self control

History of substance abuse

Abusive to animals

Suspicious of others

History of family problems

This list suggests common traits of those who are or can become violent in the workplace.

Pattern of escalation:

No two situations will be the same. The following sequence will provide an example of a common pattern:

1. Some sort of trauma is suffered. This may be:

A single traumatic event at home or work

A series of minor events

2. Blame is placed on the situation, rather than taking personal responsibility.

3. Believes the problem is unsolvable.

4. Increased social withdrawal. Attention becomes focused on self and situation.

5. Belief that a violent act is the only way out of the problem.

6. The violent act is attempted or committed.

While violent behavior is not always a result of these factors, caution is warranted when these factors are observed.

Being Part of the Solution
Often the first question that comes to mind is why should I do something about it? As a co-worker, friend, or associate, it may save a life. You may feel helpless or that nothing you could possibly do will make one bit of difference, but you are wrong.

Let’s say that a co-worker tells you in confidence that because of the abuse in their marriage they are finally ready to have their partner served as well as obtain an order of protection. You know that your friend’s partner has a history of violence, and you are trying to be supportive and keep your friend’s secret. This is a mistake. First, encourage your friend to tell their supervisor or someone in Human Resources and/or security.

Her partner may become so angry that he storms his way into your workplace with a weapon and harms others. Perhaps a hostage situation takes place. As a result seven people died and nine were injured because you kept silent.

Now, let’s say you encourage your friend to tell a supervisor or security person prior to either filing the court documents or when they return back to work, a safety plan can be implemented immediately. For instance photos of the person can be distributed to all the entranceways in the event that the person would show up at work. Your friend can be temporarily re-assigned at the facility. The management and the security are prepared just in case of an incident. As a result of your actions no lives were lost, including your own.

When and How to Respond
Often intervention is not necessary. If you notice a co-worker who is frustrated or upset, simply asking if they are alright ad offering a listening ear can be enough to diffuse the situation. Taking a genuine interest in those with whom you work promotes good moral in your workplace.

Signs of Escalation for an Employee

Is abusing alcohol or drugs

Has suffered family trauma such as divorce or death

Lost pay or benefits

Feels unimportant

Has suffered financial loss

Has an unresolved grievance at work (perceives it is being ignored)

Is having marital or domestic violence problem

Is suffering from depression

Makes comments regarding their work being unappreciated

Feels alienated by a manager or supervisor

As you observe an increasing number of warning signs in a co-worker or an employee, it should signal a greater need for caution, vigilance, and intervention. It is not necessary to judge the motives of an employee or co-worker. Just write down what you observe.

Warning Signs
If you observe an increasing number of these signs in a co-worker, vender, or visitor, the problem must be addressed immediately. Contact your Supervisor, Human Resource, or Security. If not, the likelihood increases and the behavior may escalate to a violent incident.

Direct threats

Angry outbursts

Being verbally abusive

Making serious threats

Talking about harming a spouse or co-worker

Obsession with violence

Veiled threats

Chemical/alcohol abuse

Serious financial problems cant seem to concentrate

Blaming other consistently


Extreme withdrawal

Increased personal stress

Intimidation of others

Reckless/increased accidents

Increase of the above mentioned behaviors

Further Signs To Watch

Boundary crossing. They tend to push the limits of acceptable behavior and they continue to test the established rules.

Inconsistent work patterns and attendance problems. This is very common with alcohol and drug abuse. You’ll also notice swings of either very high or very low productivity.

Personality disorders. Their behavior has changed. They will become abusive and they will justify their behavior. They are manipulative, preoccupied with themselves, argumentative, and will show signs of dramatic mood swings.

Pathological blamers. They just will not take responsibility for their own behavior. Notice if they say things like “They’re out to get me” or when they blame someone else for something they did. Common Mistakes Tolerance of violent behavior only leads to increased violence. Some common mistakes co-workers make are:

Ignore aggressive behavior

Not wanting to get involved

Covering up to protect a friend

Failure to report aggressive behavior to management

Consistently attempt to deal with the situation alone

Domestic Violence Victim Resource Guide

Victims’s Responsibilities:

Report all incidents that occur to the police.

Follow through wit the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Seek an order of protection which prohibits the offender from continuing their behavior.

Do not initiate any further contact with the person, unless advised to do so by legal counsel, police, or other appropriate support personnel/organization/agency.

Advise your employer, security and human resource of all incidents that occur at the workplace.

If you have obtained an order of protection, give a copy to security, human resources, and your immediate supervisor along with a recent photo, if possible.

Always keep a copy of your order of protection papers with you at all times.

Victim’s Safety:

Let someone close to you, a friend, relative, or co-worker know everything about what is happening.

Advise someone at all times of your schedule, and if your plans change.

Whenever possible, alternate your daily routine(s). Don’t leave for work at the usual time, if you have children make arrangements to have others you trust pick them up. Park your vehicle in a well-lit area.

Always have your car keys in your hand as you approach your vehicle.

If possible have someone with you when you are leaving work.

Consider changing your telephone number.

Additional Suggestions:

Keep a log of all threatening and harassing phone calls

Consider obtaining a Caller ID and/or call back feature *69) on your home phone.

Check into other features Ameritech offers in your area.

Consider installing a home alarm security system.

Change the locks in your home.

Consider installing additional lighting on the outside of your home.

Gather important documents such as lease, rental agreements, house deed, Mortgage payment book, birth certificate(s), bank check books, credit cards, medical records, insurance documents, etc. And keep these items together or give them to someone you trust for safekeeping.

website: www.movingoutmovingon.com
website blog and resource: www.movingoutmovingon.blogspot.com
Email address: Kindlivingpress@aol.com

Susan Murphy-Milano, respected author and nationally recognized workplace violence and relationship expert, has been a tireless advocate for all types of violence. In January of 1989, Susan's father, a Chicago Violent Crimes Detective, murdered her mother and then took his own life. In 1993 she was instrumental in the passage of the Illinois Stalking law. Susan's quest for justice has been trumpted across the pages of newspapers, magazine, radio and television. She is the author of “Moving Out Moving On" when a relationship goes wrong and “Defending Our Lives" getting away from domestic violence & staying safe (doubleday). She is a sought after speaker and her publications and books appear across the globe.


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