Protecting Your Employees From Workplace Violence

Darrin Tonsfeldt, The Village Business Institute

By Darrin Tonsfeldt
The Village Business Institute

Have you or any of your friends or family ever experienced violence while at work? To help answer this question a definition can be helpful. One I often use when talking about violence in the workplace is from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): “Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. It includes, but is not limited to beatings, stabbings, suicides, shootings, rapes, near suicides, psychological traumas such as threats, obscene phone calls, an intimidating presence, and harassment of any nature such as being followed, sworn at or shouted at.”

As the definition states, violence at work encompasses much more than just homicides. It includes a wide range of non-fatal incidents–which occur at a much higher rate than fatal incidents. Not all of those incidents are perpetrated by employees; increasingly acts of violence are brought into the workplace by non-employees.

I recently presented “Violence in the Workplace” training to an association of safety professionals. I discussed the concept of concentric consequences of violence, fatal or non-fatal. The concept is basically this; when violence occurs to anyone in the workplace, the consequences have a ripple effect across the organization. Violence does not just affect the primary victim, but everyone in the organization with a relationship to either the victim or perpetrator. The ripples can become riptides that pull co-workers apart, creating a work environment that feels unsafe. And, as the safety professionals at this training could tell you, unsafe work environments become under-performing businesses.

At the end of the training, we discussed programs and policies aimed at helping prevent or intervene on acts of violence. Of particular concern to the audience was domestic violence and the question, “Should employers require victims of domestic violence with orders of protection to mandatorily report such orders to their supervisor?” The experienced safety professional who posed this question was concerned about potentially violent perpetrators seeking out their spouses at work. It appeared to be his belief that having such a mandatory policy could act as a preventative measure and help the company head off any problems. Although the belief seems plausible, consider the following two points before agreeing:

  • How would you feel about having to tell your supervisor about being a victim of abuse? Most victims of domestic abuse feel a great deal of shame and powerlessness and may feel re-victimized if they are required to report an order of protection to their employer.
  • Now picture yourself as a supervisor disciplining a victim of violence for not reporting to you an order of protection. Good human resource practices tell us that when you make a policy mandatory you do not optionally enforce it. Therefore employees who do not comply with a mandatory policy are in violation of company rules and subject to disciplinary process.

The intent of such a mandatory policy is honorable in that it seeks to protect both the victim and his or her co-workers. The reality is such a policy is no guarantee of protection. Some employees may choose to ignore the policy, some supervisors may choose not to enforce it, and there are better ways to enhance safety. One is to have a policy that encourages employees to voluntarily report orders of protection to their employer and provides them with reporting options. Such a policy needs to consider the employee’s right to privacy while taking steps, on a need-to-know-basis, to make proper security arrangements.

A second area of importance when it comes to enhancing safety is the quality of the employee/supervisor relationship. An employee who feels they are treated fairly and respectfully by a supervisor are much more likely to let the supervisor know what is going on. The supervisor can then be helpful to the employee and make reasonable security arrangements—rather than unnecessarily spending valuable time enforcing a mandatory policy.

If you are concerned about safety at your workplace, make sure your supervisors know how to recognize and respectfully attend to employees who have experienced violence. Hiring, training, and retaining outstanding supervisors is a must, as is having a quality employee assistance program [EAP]. Supervisors who build trusting relationships with their employees know there will be times they need the resources of an EAP to provide help to employees struggling with domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues, difficulties at work, and more.

To learn how you can access high quality consulting, training, and employee assistance programs to prevent or deal with workplace violence, call The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220, or visit our website at

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.


1 Response

  1. If your company has between 1 and 4 employees, the potential employment liabilities DO justify having various written employee policies, many of which are required by law. Typically, the policies that should be provided include: an at-will policy, sexual harassment policy, anti-harassment policy, safety policy, paid family leave policy, as well as the required information that must be provided with respect to the Earned Income Tax Credit Information Act, state disability insurance, workers compensation benefits, and unemployment compensation. Although other provisions may be provided to your employees, it is essential that your employee policies comply with the requirements of California law, yet set forth procedures specifically tailored to your business.

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