Episodes of workplace violence seem to come up in the news every week. When employees act out aggressively towards others, either provoked or not, there is always the possibility for damage and injury.

This week, I was brought into a situation concerning an employee who was bullied to the point where he acted out inappropriately by getting into a shoving match with a co-worker. Clearly, this was a very upset worker who felt he had no other recourse but to defend his physical space against a perceived threat. But it never had to happen if the HR staff or management on site had taken steps to prevent workplace violence, in the first place.

There are many undocumented cases of workplace violence, but of those that cause injury and death come up in OSHA reports. In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported that of the some 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States the previous year, 506 were actually workplace homicides perpetrated by a colleague. (Source: CFOI, 2011) It was also reported that workplace violence is the number one reason women die on the job. Those are some sobering statistics.

While much time has gone into providing educational materials and training to spot the signs of a violent event at work, not much information is out there when it actually happens. Since I have personally been present at a workplace violence situation, I wanted to provide some guidelines on what to do in this situation.

What to Do When Workplace Violence Occurs

  1. Take all threats seriously. If an employee says he or she wants to fight, kill, or harm another employee for any reason, or makes any gesture to the same, it’s time to take invasive action – now. Pull the offending employee into a meeting with you (HR) and the immediate supervisor. Talk it through and find a solution. Dismiss the employee for the rest of the workday to cool off. Then document this well.
  2. Report the incident. Depending on how serious the action was, whether it was a shouting match, a physical fight, or some other type of violence – report this to the local police department. If an actual crime has occurred, have the victim fill out a police report to document what happened. Give the police officer(s) a detailed account of what happened, and allow them to question the perpetrator, the victim, and any witnesses.
  3. Suspend the offender with pay. As an employer, you have the right to keep your staff, customers and property safe. However, depending on the situation, you may run into a greater risk by further infuriating the offender by outright firing him or her. Give the employee 2 days off with pay while you discuss internally if the action warrants termination. In some cases with a verbal altercation it may just be a temporary disagreement between employees that can be sorted out, with follow-up anger management training offered. With a physical fight or violence, it’s best to terminate the employee and establish an order of protection to keep him or her off your property and away from your staff.

If you are concerned about workplace violence, the USDA offers a great Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention and Response for your information. Make sure your employee handbook includes a section on this very important issue, so your employees never become a statistic.

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Photo Credit: Simon Howden