Prevent Bullying, Verbal Abuse And Physical Threats At Work

Take these steps to safeguard your employees from bullying, verbal abuse and physical threats on the job.

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A few decades ago we thought of workplace health and safety mainly in terms of transportation accidents, slip and fall incidents, or injuries that could be prevented by wearing proper safety equipment. Gear like earplugs, hard hats, safety goggles and gloves greatly reduced the risk of workplace injury and simple hand washing protected workers from communicable diseases.

But today’s workplace dangers go beyond accidents and bacteria. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 2 million employees are affected by workplace violence each year, ranging from minor assaults and verbal abuse to shootings that wound or kill multiple people. We see these tragic stories on the news and wonder if the people and businesses involved can ever recover. Even minor violence in the workplace can be costly both for employees personally and to a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Workplace threats can come from disgruntled employees or ex-employees, workplace bullies, illegal drug users, ex-spouses, dissatisfied clients or strangers with criminal intent. To protect your company from danger, be aware that violence targeted at your employees can come from inside or outside the company. You don’t have to be paranoid but do be vigilant.


While it’s not possible to guarantee the safety of all employees 24 hours a day, it helps to be proactive. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of violence for your employees on the job:

Secure the workplace. Outsiders intending to commit a crime – not employees – are responsible for the vast majority of violent incidents in the workplace. Make sure your facilities and parking lot are well lit so people are safe coming and going. You may want to install video surveillance equipment and an alarm system. Utilizing identification badges and key cards can minimize access by strangers. Also, keep minimal cash on hand at the office and with drivers in company vehicles.

Secure employees on the road. Make sure routes are monitored and drivers are equipped with cellphones or two-way radios. Use the buddy system or at least make sure drivers let someone know of their whereabouts throughout the day if they will be working in a remote or high crime area. Also, be sure to keep company vehicles properly maintained to avoid breakdowns in neighborhoods where being stranded could be dangerous.

Know the people you hire. Ask trusted employees, friends or relatives for recommendations when looking to add staff. Don’t rush the hiring process. Do your research and background checks on new employees. Ask applicants for references and follow through with calling them. Be wary if an applicant’s former employer won’t call you back, won’t comment on the applicant or hints at problems. Learn what you can and can’t legally ask applicants and references, and how to ask effective questions. Trust your gut and move on if red flags are raised during the hiring process that may indicate a history of violence.

Foster a positive company culture. Provide employees with opportunities to socialize and get to know one another. This will reduce stress in the workplace and encourage people to look out for one another. If employees get to know each other better, it can also help them recognize if something about a co-worker’s mood or personality seems “off.”

Have zero tolerance for workplace intimidation. Bullying isn’t just a problem in schools. It can occur in the workplace too and follow people home as cyberbullying via email, text messages and social media. Teach employees to recognize the signs of bullying and encourage them to document and report bullying. You may want to devise a way for employees who feel bullied or threatened or witness bullying to report it anonymously. And take all incidents of bullying seriously.


By studying cases of workplace violence, the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, Profiling and Behavioral Assessment Unit has compiled the following list of indicators of increased risk of violent behavior:

  • Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior
  • Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees
  • Bringing, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making inappropriate references to guns, fascination with weapons
  • Fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve problems, statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides
  • Statements indicating desperation over family, financial or other personal problems, to the point of contemplating suicide
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Extreme behavior changes

If anyone at your workplace exhibits these indicators, it may be time to get law enforcement involved.


Even if an incident seems minor, don’t sweep it under the rug. Insist that employees report and log any threat or incident of violence experienced in the workplace. This can help you see if there is a pattern of violence occurring in certain situations or involving a particular person. Having all threats and incidents documented provides leverage for making changes.

If an employee gets hurt in a violent incident, make sure they get prompt medical evaluation and treatment. Some injuries are more serious than they appear.

Report any violent incidents to the local police. This shows your employees you take matters of workplace violence seriously and their safety is more important than company appearances.

Discuss the violent incident with staff. Encourage employees to share ideas about avoiding similar situations in the future. Offer to meet regularly with those involved to discuss what happened and help them work through the stress so they can recover from the incident.

Institute any corrective actions necessary to prevent a similar incident and follow up after changes are made to make sure they have helped to improve the situation.


Work is hard. Getting there on time and doing a good job every day is enough of a challenge. Employees shouldn’t have to feel threatened or afraid while on the job. Make sure you are doing everything you can to maintain a safe and happy workplace. The last thing you want to experience as a manager or business owner is seeing your company on the evening news because of a violent incident involving your workers.


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