Workplace Violence Prevention

 In Develop & Coach


Q: I’m worried I have a potential workplace violence issue on my hands. I have an employee who is starting to act very strangely. She has been very quiet and moody lately. Twice I’ve seen her rip into a co-worker for very minor issues. At the end of the last confrontation, I noticed that she picked up a pair of scissors and was holding them in her hand like a weapon.

Am I overreacting or should I be concerned that she might go off the deep end and become truly violent one day? She’s always been a steady employee until now. Help! I don’t know what to do.

A: I’m so glad you’re noticing these situations! Whether you know it or not, you’ve actually identified one of the early warning signs of violence—in this case specifically, workplace violence.

And contrary to common beliefs, women can and do turn violent. Although most workplace violence is committed by males, it is not the case 100% of the time. Unfortunately, research on perpetrators is a bit sketchy because many incidents go unreported.

My point is this—don’t assume that a woman would not engage in violent behavior at work.


To give you a better framework, a Business & Legal Resources report has identified 3 stages of violence.  Each stage has certain behaviors to look for and address as early as possible:

Stage I–Early Potential for Violence

Common behaviors:

  • Dehumanizing other people: name-calling, racial insults, or other verbal abuse, or sexual harassment
  • Challenging authority: insubordination
  • Consistently argumentative, alienating customers or co-workers
  • Unusual or strange behavior: paranoid comments, social isolation, fixation on violence, angry responses to situations

Stage II–Escalated Potential for Violence

Common behaviors:

  • Ignoring company policies and procedures
  • Stealing from the company or co-workers
  • Making threats verbally, in writing, by e-mail, or by voice mail
  • Blaming others for all problems
  • Destruction of property

Stage III–Potential for Violence Is Realized

Common behaviors:

  • Displaying or brandishing a gun, knife, grenade
  • Punching, kicking, slapping
  • Committing assault, arson, or threatening suicide
  • Stalking


1. Take action.

Treat this inappropriate behavior as you would any other workplace behavior that conflicts with your expectations.

Would you allow someone to swear at your customers? No.

Would you allow someone to sneak in late and jimmy their time sheet? No.

Therefore, address this new and unwelcome behavior in a private meeting with the employee as soon as possible.

2. Explain your company policy regarding on-the-job conduct.

Express your concerns about the specific behavior that you’ve seen or that has been reported to you. If you don’t have such a company policy, better hop to it.

This is the type of expectation that you should set in your employee handbook, so that everyone understands the same guidelines. Putting an employee on notice that you are aware of and unwilling to allow destructive types of behavior, can go a long way to prevent further incidents.

It can also open the door to critical communication that needs to occur for the employee’s well-being. There may be a need to vent about personal problems, which can help the employee de-stress enough to regain control of their situation.

OR, there may be work-related issues that are at the root of the behaviors.  If that is the case, you have the ability and the responsibility to make an impact. For example, there could be frustrating operational issues that are causing built up anxiety and anger. Or there could be other, different inappropriate behaviors that another employee, manager or customer is exhibiting that is affecting this employee.

Ask questions and really listen for the truth.

3. Report concerns.

If you’re the employee and not the manager, it’s your responsibility to report your concerns about what you witness or experience. Even if you are visiting a customer’s location and you witness or experience an incident, report it to your manager immediately.

It’s the only way your manager can help prevent further incidents of the same or escalated behaviors. Hindsight has shown in a majority of workplace violence incidents that there were warning signs that were ignored or downplayed by co-workers and management. There are several workplace violence prevention techniques every business must know and put in place.

Don’t assume someone is “just having a bad day” or “that’s just how Brad is.” Better to be proactive.

4. Conduct training.

Training and communication are major elements in preventing workplace violence. Use your early morning staff meetings or your weekly safety meetings to discuss workplace violence. Share with your team what signs to be aware of, how to report it, how to respond to it in-the-moment, etc.

The more you discuss these potentially dangerous situations, the more likely that your staff will NOT engage in the behaviors. In addition, this understanding prepares them to respond in the best way if they ever see it occurring.

Invest in your team this way, because everyone has the right to feel safe in their workplace.

Now, come on over to our Facebook page and tell us your story if you’ve ever experienced workplace violence.  What steps did you take to prevent it or recover from it?

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