The Inside Threat: Combatting Workplace Violence

December 16th, 2019


When a major incident of workplace violence occurs, the incident is heavily covered by the news. Because news outlets typically cover only the most disastrous of events (often involving homicide), employers and HR professionals tend to slip into the fallacy of believing that workplace violence incidents are few and far between. Many think that a violent incident would NEVER occur in their own organization, so no significant action on their part is required to avoid it… Furthermore, employers know their employees and can clearly identify potential threats, right? Wrong.

Workplace violence is defined as the act or threat of violence (ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault) directed toward people at work or on duty and occurs more often than one would think. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an average of nearly 2 million U.S. workers report having been a victim of violence at work each year.

What Employers Need to Know

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to protect employees against violence at work, but employers are legally obligated to ensure that employees understand how to prepare for and react to violence. According to OSHA’s Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence, “employers may be found in violation of the General Duty Clause if they fail to reduce or eliminate serious recognized hazards.” When investigating a workplace violence incident, inspectors analyze evidence to decide whether an employer recognized the existence of a potential workplace violence hazard affecting his or her employees. Employers can be held liable for a variety of common-law principles including premises liability, respondent superior, negligence in hiring or retention, as well as discrimination and harassment claims that may arise. Now that the legal framework is out of the way… what can you as an employer do to make sure that your workforce is prepared for and responds quickly to violence?

It is important to recognize that all companies are different, so each employer will require a unique plan to fit their organization’s specific circumstances. However, implementing the following strategies can drastically help to deter violent incidences from occurring:

  • Encourage employees to report any type of threatening or abnormal behavior. If they are questioning whether a behavior should be reported, it is always best to err on the side of over-reporting.

  • Implement a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Any behavior that makes an employee feel uncomfortable is cause for concern.

  • Be familiar with the warning signs. Certain behaviors such as aggression, hostility, hypersensitivity, and prolonged anger are red flags that a dangerous incident could be pending.

  • Training should be offered to all employees and conducted at least annually. Training topics are to include an overview of the company’s individual violence prevention plan as well as identify risk factors and ways to diffuse tense situations. In the words of SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED), “If you have not trained your employees to do something, you have trained them to do nothing – and you are liable.”

We have just scratched the surface on workplace violence in hopes that your organization will reflect on its own ability to respond in the face of a violent incident. Do you have a prevention plan in place? Do your employees know what their role is in preventing workplace violence?

The Hayes Approach offers assistance with understanding the specific liabilities that pertain to employers as well as professional insight on handling sticky circumstances including terminations and cases that involve mental illness. Give us a call at (864) 509-7496 to learn more about how we can help!

Prepared by Audrey Kapp, HR Administrator at The Hayes Approach


CDC – Occupational Violence – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. (2019, October 3). Retrieved December 10, 2019, from

Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence. (2017, January 10). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

Understanding Workplace Violence Prevention and Response. (2019). Retrieved December 12, 2019, from

Workplace Violence. (n.d.). Retrieved from