published April 15, 2023

By Nancy Hatch Woodward

5 Steps to Prevent and Safeguard Against Workplace Violence - Protect Your Employees and Your Business


Employers are increasingly having to face the harsh reality of violence in the workplace. It is an issue that affects employees and business owners alike, and it is essential to create a safe and secure work environment for both workers and employers. By developing clear policies and procedures, employers can put in place measures to help protect workers from violence and minimize damage to the business.

Identifying and addressing violence in the workplace is the first step to ensuring safety and security. Employers should create and implement a zero-tolerance policy that clearly defines expectations and consequences regarding violence, harassment, and bullying. They should also encourage employees to report incidents of harassment or threatening behavior, and provide a safe system in which those complaints can be heard and addressed.

Regular training and education is another important tool to help protect workers and reduce the risk of violence in the workplace. Employers should offer training that covers the differences between workplace violence, harassment, and bullying, and how to effectively respond to incidents.

Additionally, employers should consider implementing safety measures such as security cameras and panic buttons to help reduce the risk of violence. Employers should also consider establishing a system for monitoring the activities of workers and be aware of any potential threats.

These steps can help employers create a safer work environment and protect their business from the significant personal and financial costs associated with workplace violence. A commitment to providing a safe and secure workplace is essential for maintaining a productive and successful business. Employers must remain vigilant and take all measures necessary to protect their workers and their business.

Understanding violence in the workplace

Violence in the workplace is a very serious problem today, and the employer has a responsibility to protect the safety of employees and visitors. It's an unfortunate reality that violence can happen in any business setting, and employers need to be aware of potential risks, such as crime, terrorism, and other threats to safety. Employers should create safety policies and procedures to stop violence from occurring and to deal with any violence that may take place.

Common sources of violence in the workplace

Workplace violence can occur from a variety of sources, ranging from disgruntled employees to customers, visitors, or even third-party vendors. In some cases, it may even be a result of criminal activity or terrorism. Regardless of the source, it's important for employers to be aware of potential risks and be prepared to respond to any situation. Employers should make sure their staff are trained and able to identify signs of potential violence and take appropriate action.

Recognizing signs of workplace violence

Employers should be aware of the possible signs of workplace violence and take appropriate action when needed. Some signs may include changes in behavior such as aggression, hostility, and erratic behavior. Other signs may include threats of violence, such as verbal or written threats, as well as physical abuse or threat of physical abuse. It's important for employers to be vigilant and be prepared to take action if any of these signs are observed.

Prevention is key in addressing workplace violence

Preventing violence in the workplace is the best way to protect employees and customers. Employers should create safety policies that clearly outline expectations and consequences. These policies should be regularly reviewed and updated to address any changes or potential risks. In addition, employers should create a system to identify and address potential threats and provide employees with the training and resources they need to respond to potential violence.

Creating a safe workplace environment

Creating a safe, secure workplace environment is essential to protect employees and visitors. Employers should create measures to ensure that everyone in the workplace is safe, such as installing security cameras, having locks on all doors and windows, and installing appropriate lighting. Employers should also ensure that all staff have an understanding of their responsibilities in case of any emergency. Lastly, employers should provide emotional support services to any employees who may be affected by violence in the workplace.

<<Most people tend to think that the perpetrators are usually a stalking spouse or a disgruntled employee, but the problem is broader than that, as the murders in Chicago and Atlanta clearly demonstrate.

Too many employers, however, don't think it can happen to them. Doing what is necessary to prepare facilities and staff for possible violence isn't a revenue-generating activity; therefore, management may not want to spend the time or money for something that may never occur. But there can be greater costs to the company above the human tragedy, notes Martha L. Lester, Esq., Director at Lowenstein Sandler, P.C., in Roseland, NJ, who serves as the chair of her firm's Employment Law Practice Group. Employers can face problems with lost time and productivity, lower morale, property damage, diminished public image, litigation costs, and costs of increased security measures.

Employer liability

Employers can have vicarious liability when an employee's actions further the employer's business and are done within the scope of that business. There would be no liability if the employee engaged in acts for personal convenience or outside the scope of business, or if the acts were not foreseeable.

They may also find themselves liable under common law theories of liability, such as negligent hiring, improper training, or negligent retention. For instance, says Lester, companies that do not perform background or reference checks or don't train or supervise employees to identify people who may be at risk for committing violence or threats may be held liable if an employee turns out to be a risk to others. The same can be true of companies that retain employees after finding out they have histories of harassment or assault, especially if the employer has not warned other employees about the potential for violence.

Finally, employers can be held liable for not creating a safe workplace or premises. Maybe the employer doesn't have the right lighting in its parking lot, or it doesn't lock the bathrooms after hours.

Lester noted that employers who have strong anti-violence and anti-harassment policies can focus on the behavior of individuals, instead of a specific person's issue and can help ensure that the policies apply to all employees.

Protect your workers and your company

There are a variety of ways you can protect your workplace, says Lester:
  • Have screening procedures appropriate to your applicants. Usually, this means background and reference checks and drug screening.
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize the warning signs of a potentially violent person: someone who becomes irrational, drastically changes his/her behavioral or belief system, no longer bathes, and/or starts intimidating others or calling co-workers names. Also, teach management how to de-escalate the situation.
  • Have a written anti-violence/harassment policy that states the company will not tolerate any violence or threats of violence in the workplace. It should also let employees know that they are expected to report any such acts on the premises and provide clear instructions on how to do so. All employees should receive copies of this policy in addition to some form of training.
  • Promote employee-assistance or counseling programs.
  • Form a safety committee to help identify potential problem areas. Also, send a questionnaire to all employees, asking them what they perceive as dangerous in the workplace.
  • Conduct a physical inspection of your worksite. Some employers have local law enforcement or firefighters come in and look at the premises—first, to familiarize themselves with the site in the event of violence and second, to identify any areas of special concern. Are fire extinguishers in the right places? Are there first aid kits? Are people trained in CPR?
  • Consider installing panic buttons at both reception areas and restrooms.
  • Limit entrances and exits. Have visitors sign in to the premises. Many companies have their employees wear ID badges.
  • If there are employees who work late at night or in high-crime areas, consider security guards or escorts or having special security phone numbers.
  • Prepare for the aftermath. Keep emergency contact information on- and off-site. Have counseling available for employees and family members. Appoint a spokesperson. Be ready to file insurance forms. Consult with counsel.
Law offices and courtrooms

As the cases in Atlanta and Chicago confirm, the legal profession is not immune to violent outbreaks. "We are a service-oriented business," says Lester. "Therefore, a disgruntled client who is disappointed with results—or an unhappy spouse—can wreak havoc in the workplace." If you have an employee you are especially worried about— maybe an attorney in a controversial case or a paralegal with a restraining order against her spouse—you may suggest he/she buddy up with others when traveling to and from work. Other helpful ideas include altering his/her work schedule so he/she isn't coming and going at the same time every day and giving that employee a parking space nearest the entranceway.

And there is one simple piece of advice. "Never underestimate the value of the police," Lester emphasizes. "If you feel you have a disgruntled employee who you feel may wish to do harm to your employees or business, call the police."

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