HR Support on Violence in the Workplace

Editor's Note: Stop the fighting and get back to work.

Ashley ShawOverview: Violence in the workplace can consist of anything from a small altercation between two disputing employees, to a workplace shooting, to a full-blown terrorist act. As part of an overall risk management plan, employers should be on the guard to protect workers from all acts of violence in the workplace.

There are many different forms of workplace violence. The FBI classifies workplace violence into four groups:

  • Type 1: Violence by criminals;
  • Type 2: Violence by customers, clients, etc.;
  • Type 3: Violence by former or current employees;
  • Type 4: Violence by a visitor with a personal relationship to an employee (such as a friend, spouse or other family member).

In the third type, before a situation even gets to the level of violence, there will likely be signs of a problem, such as workplace bullying. HR should address all threats and all signs of workplace bullying before an act of violence occurs. For all types of violence, policies and procedures should be in place that will tell employees how to act and how to handle violence. Employees who work in areas where violence is more likely to occur, such as convenience stores where robberies are more common, should be trained in the proper procedures.

Many employers choose to have zero tolerance policies that state any act of violence, no matter how minor, is immediate grounds for termination. Others choose to offer counseling or other discipline procedures. Whatever the method of prevention, though, it is important to do something to prevent and handle violence. While violence itself is not an OSHA regulated standard, some states do have laws on the topic, and OSHA will fine employers who have an obviously unsafe environment as the result of violence under the General Duty Clause.

Trends: Domestic violence protections have increased in some states over recent years, and several states have laws that will allow an employer to take out a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee if there is a threat that the domestic violence could be perpetrated in the workplace.

Author: Ashley Shaw, JD, Legal Editor

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HR guidance on preventing and responding to violence in the workplace. Advice on creating plans and polices that prevent or limit workplace violence.