Workplace violence and disgruntled employees -- all of us have heard the horror stories: a former worker with a grudge, an employee's ex-lover, or an enraged client bursts through the door, shooting first and asking questions later. Consider these examples:
Although workplace violence is not as common as the news might lead us to believe, it is a major problem in the United States. Government studies estimate that there are about two million assaults and threats of violence made against workers each year. According to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, workplace violence costs businesses more than $36 billion each year.
But did you know that workplace violence is much more commonly committed by outsiders than by current or former employees? Or that thousands of acts of workplace violence are committed each year by the intimate partners and spouses of employees? This article lays out the facts about workplace violence, including steps you can take if you have concerns. (For answers to common questions on workplace safety in general, check out Nolo's Your Health and Safety at Work FAQ.)
Contrary to popular belief, the great majority of violent incidents in the workplace are perpetrated by outsiders -- strangers intending to commit a crime -- rather than employees. For example, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workplace homicides are committed by robbers trying to steal from the business, not by current or former employees.
Employees who deal with the public are most likely to fall victim to this type of workplace violence. Those at particularly high risk include workers who exchange money with the public, deliver goods or services, work alone or in small numbers during the late evening and early morning hours, or work in jobs that require extensive public contact. Certain industries, such as health care, security (including police officers), and retail are targeted more frequently than others.
Minimizing risk and improving security are the keys to preventing this type of workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers these tips for employers seeking to protect employees; if you have concerns about violence by outsiders, ask your employer about implementing them (you can find fact sheets and more tips on OSHA's official website):
According to the American Institute on Domestic Violence, 18,700 acts of violence are committed by intimate partners and spouses (current and former) every year against women in the workplace. And sometimes, these incidents go beyond the intended target to harm other employees as well.
Experts tell us that domestic violence frequently follows a fairly predictable cycle, in which pressure, threats, and coercion precede acts of violence. By the time a batterer shows up at the victim's workplace intending to do harm, chances are good that he has already made threats and committed other acts of violence or property damage.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, here are a few things you should know:
You can find legal guides, information on state laws, fact sheets, and tips on communicating with your employer about a domestic violence situation, from the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund at www.legalmomentum.org; under the "Our Work" tab, select "Women and Violence."
Workplace violence committed by current or former employees is the most foreseeable, because the perpetrators are coworkers we see every day. Although some employees resort to violence without any warning, it's relatively uncommon for someone to simply snap one day and go on a rampage. Instead, experts say that the problem often builds up slowly, and the perpetrator may exhibit certain signs of trouble before becoming violent.
Of course, no single one of these signs, taken alone, is a sure indicator that an employee may turn violent. But managers and HR professionals should be on the lookout for clues indicating that intervention may be necessary -- and, if other employees notice these signs and have concerns, they should raise them with a manager. Things to look for include:
For additional information on your health and safety in the workplace, see Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Repa (Nolo).