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Workplace Violence Banner
Posted on NOV 27, 2017

7 tips to prevent workplace violence

Nearly 2 million Americans report being victims of workplace violence each year, and many more incidents go unreported.* Workplace violence can affect and involve employees, clients, patients, contractors and visitors. As an employer, you are responsible for maintaining a safe place for your employees to work. These tips can help.

1. Create a plan

The best protection you can offer is to establish a zero‐tolerance policy toward workplace violence. It can be part of a safety and health program, employee handbook, manual of standard operating procedures or code of conduct.

“It's important to overcome an ‘It won't happen to us’ attitude,” says Chad Kaster, AVP Loss Control Engineer, Johnson Insurance. “No one expects violence, but the reality is that it does occur, and you can't predict where it will happen. You need to take the risk seriously.”

Templates of policies and procedures that you can tailor to your business's specific situation are available from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Johnson Insurance.

2. Train employees

Employees can learn how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs. Train staff to watch for warning signs that might signal future violence from their co‐workers or others with whom they interact. Any of the behaviors listed below should be reported to supervisors or the human resources department:

Increasingly erratic, unsafe or aggressive behaviors Excessive use of alcohol or drugs Persistent complaining about unfair treatment or perceived wrongdoing
Unexplained absences or decline in job performance Depression, withdrawal or suicidal comments Resistance and overreaction to changes at work
Sudden and dramatic changes in home life or in personality Violation of company policies Talk of severe financial problems
Emotional responses to criticism, mood swings Paranoia (“Everyone is against me”)  

“You can do training internally, or get help from your local police department or a third party,” Kaster says. “I suggest starting with the local police, because if something happens, they'll be the ones responding. If they've been involved in training your employees, you'll know you're all on the same page.”

3. Create effective lines of communication

Encourage team members to communicate with each other by holding regular team meetings. Open discussions can often clear up misunderstandings and defuse tensions that could lead to violence. Urge team members to be open‐minded and respectful of each other, and address conflicts immediately.

Victims of or witnesses to harassment or violence should understand that they are expected to report all incidents. Be sure everyone knows who to inform and how.

4. Secure your facility

“Depending on the type of business you run, you may want to limit entrance to your premises by issuing badges to employees or requiring them to enter an access code,” Kaster notes. You can create an entrance where visitors must pass through more than one door, or secure certain areas behind locked doors or gates. Other ideas include:

  • Install video surveillance and extra lighting.
  • Hire a security officer.
  • Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand.

5. Learn how to deliver bad news

Giving bad news to employees can increase the potential for violence, but delivering the news in the proper way can decrease the risk. “If you have to let employees know they didn't get the raise or promotion they felt they deserved, or that they're being laid off or fired, how you deliver the news is very important,” Kaster says.

Be direct and avoid mixed messages. Confidently convey the information and leave no room for interpretation. Don't sugarcoat the news, and be sure your body language doesn't send a conflicting message. Explain how and why the decision was made, and allow the employee to vent, but not debate.

6. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An EAP offers free and confidential assessments, short‐term counseling, referrals and follow‐up services to employees who have personal or work‐related problems. EAP counselors address mental and emotional well‐being, including alcohol and substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems and psychological disorders. Many EAPs help organizations prevent and cope with workplace violence.

7. Practice a response to an active shooter

The DHS recommends that individuals prepare mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation, since they are often over before law enforcement arrives on the scene. It suggests the first choice is to run. If that's not possible, hide. If you can't run or hide, fight as a last resort. And always call 911 as soon as it's safe to do so.

Learn more

Being prepared can help prevent your business from becoming a workplace violence statistic. Take these steps to begin to keep your employees safe, or contact your Johnson Insurance advisor today to learn more.


National Safety Council, “Is Your Workplace Prone to Violence?”

*OSHA, “Workplace Violence”

Harvard Business Review, “How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees,” March 30, 2015