Workplace Violence—Identification, Prevention, & Intervention

    By Diana Sorrentino, Ph.D., Director – Security Operations, Lehigh Valley Paladin LLC

    The frequency with which episodes of physical violence, aggressive behavior, harassment—sexual or otherwise—bullying, and intimidation are occurring in the workplace has reached a level of epidemic proportions. Research conducted and compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health has repeatedly shown that no business, industry, or market segment will be immune from issues of workplace violence.

    The number one threat to businesses as surveyed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency is workplace violence.

    According to the research, 18,000 employees are assaulted on the job in the United States each week. Additionally, 20 employees are murdered on the job each week. Even more alarming is the fact that 74 percent of these assaults are perpetrated by an individual who is known to one or more people at the company and, significantly enough, of the 74 percent, 40 percent of the workplace violence assaults are perpetrated as a direct result of domestic and intimate violence finding its way into the workplace.


    Changes in an individual’s personality, general behavioral characteristics, how they interact with others, along with their overall demeanor will prove to be your best indication that a personal problem, a problem which will typically lead to behavioral issues and performance problems at work, has developed with one of your employees. However; to recognize, respond, and intervene to any of these anomalies you must have developed a basic knowledge and understanding of your employee’s behavioral baseline.

    Behavioral baseline is the employee’s normal, anticipated, and consistent behavior which is experienced by your employees, supervisors, and managers on a day-to-day basis. Would you be able to recognize the warning signs associated with the deterioration of an employee’s behavior, overall disposition, and performance—a deterioration which could very well indicate that the employee is experiencing a personal or familial emergency or crisis, which could prove to be a precursor to aggressive behavior or violence?

    With a clear understanding that the behavior of most individuals will be consistent and, for the most part, predictable—provided you understand your employee’s behavioral baseline and general personality and demeanor—recognizing anomalies in their behavior and performance will provide you with the ability to respond, rather than react, to troublesome developments and changes in behavior or performance. When you are familiar with the behavioral baseline of your employees, the typical behavior you would expect to see or experience on a regular basis, then you will be able to recognize an anomaly when it develops.

    Changes in behavior—beyond an individual having a bad day—need to be addressed immediately so the nature and scope of the problem impacting the employee and the type of the intervention to implement are properly determined.

    Job performance, the employee’s interactions with fellow employees, attitude, temperament, and their behavioral changes are the first signs that a problem is developing. Keep in mind that in the early stages, the warning signs may be subtle. All too often these early warning signs are casually and mistakenly dismissed as “they are having a bad day.” However; having a bad day which persists for more than a day or two is a clear indication that something is wrong and that a problem exists or is developing inside or outside the workplace. Recognizing behavioral changes, coupled with a basic knowledge of the warning signs and triggers which have historically preceded acts of workplace aggression or violence, will prove to be an effective early warning system.


    There are numerous behaviors and warning signs, beyond the scope of an employee’s behavioral baseline, which historically are associated with episodes of aggression or violence in the workplace. They include: history of violence or aggression; a loner; emotional, financial, medical and/or familial problems; argumentative, antagonistic and hostile behavior; unhealthy obsessions; short tempered; incidents of domestic or intimate violence; employment instability; lack of problem solving skills; egotistical; narcissistic and self-centered behavior to name a few.

    Personal Inhibitors

    Numerous personal and familial factors in an employee’s life will work to stabilize a person’s overall behavior and their outlook on life. They include: a stable marriage, home ownership, children, a healthy circle of friends outside of work, hobbies, sports and other interests outside of work, financial and emotional stability. When these elements are in place, and most importantly stable, they will work to inhibit an individual’s potential for violence.

    When these inhibitors are collapsing, have collapsed, or do not exist in the first place, the potential for physical violence from this employee will increase significantly because they have little or nothing left to lose.

    More frequently than not when a problem with an employee develops at work, it is a direct result of a problem existing outside of work which has manifested to the point that the employee could be on the brink of becoming overwhelmed and losing control.

    Detection & Prevention

    Everyone experiences a bad day. A bad day becomes more than a bad day when deteriorating behavior and/or performance issues, which is typically influenced by problematic personal or familial events taking place outside the workplace, persist beyond a 48- to 72-hour period.

    Knowing the behavioral baseline, as well as the existence of any other warning signs and triggers of your employees—whether you are a supervisor, manager or business owner—will provide you with the insights necessary to identify critical changes in an employee’s overall behavior and performance and not just chalk it up to the employee having a bad day.

    Believing that it cannot happen is a myth

    Managerial attitudes that it could never happen here is nothing more than the blatant and unrealistic denial of the fact that workplace violence is a reality and a significant safety and security issue facing today’s employers and their employees.


    Proactive workplace violence prevention and intervention cannot take place if supervisors, managers, and business owners have not been properly trained to recognize and respond to the early warning signs. Proactive workplace violence prevention and intervention cannot take place if you are unable to recognize those changes in behavior and the plethora of warning signs, or red flags, that would alert the employer to the fact that a problem may be developing.

    Verifying that current management practices acknowledge and address the potential for workplace violence, that policies and procedures have been established and communicated on how management will address issues of workplace aggression or violence, and that there is a structured means of reporting any form of aggression, threat, intimidation, harassment, or violence to management for immediate intervention is an essential requirement which cannot be ignored.

    Management intervention includes: employee counseling, utilizing the resources of an employee assistance program, a structured incremental disciplinary policy which is evenly applied based on the frequency and severity of the employee’s actions, legal action, sanctions, and ultimately law enforcement intervention.

    Employee behavioral problems, no matter how trivial, will never be rectified through denial, or believing that the problem will resolve itself, without proactive management intervention. Management intervention must take place as soon as any of the symptoms and warning signs are present and before the behavior reaches the point where termination of the employee becomes your only option. Keep in mind that while an employee termination will eliminate the day-to-day problem from within the workplace, termination will not guarantee that the problem employee will not return to exact some measure of revenge. Violence prone employees have returned to exact their revenge on their former coworkers 2.5 years following their termination.

    Domestic and Intimate Violence and the Workplace Statistics

    78% of the perpetrators interviewed reported that they used the victim’s workplace to assault, harass, stalk, check up on their victim, pressure, or threaten their victim, as well as to gain access to their victim.

    74% of the perpetrators interviewed reported that they had easy access to their victims at the victim’s workplace.

    21% of the perpetrators interviewed reported that they contacted their victim at the victim’s workplace in direct violation of No Contact or Protection from Abuse Orders.

    67% of the victims interviewed stated that their abuser came to their workplace to check up on them, stalk, intimidate, or assault them.

    Top Five Incidents of Workplace Violence as Classified by the FBI

    Type 1:  Violence by Criminals

    Type 2:  Someone Receiving Service

    Type 3:  Past or Present Employees

    Type 4:  Domestic Abusers

    Type 5:  Terrorism


    Lehigh Valley Paladin LLC will provide PRLA members with up to one (1) hour of telephone consultation service per issue. Lehigh Valley Paladin is a group of security, intelligence, and investigation professionals that address the threats, risks, and exposures facing your business. Learn more about the member benefit at or request a consultation by calling PRLA’s office at 800-345-5353, emailing



    The OSHA General Duty Clause requires all employers to provide employees with a place of employment which is free from known risks, threats and hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to the employees. 29 USC 654(a)(1)

    OSHA has officially classified workplace violence as a serious workplace safety issue.

    Civil Litigation

    U.S. Courts have ruled that employers have a Duty of Care towards their employees and their customers to take responsible steps to prevent violence and to respond appropriately to known risks, threats, and hazards. An employee with a Protection from Abuse order has been determined to be a known risk and hazard to coworkers!

    Civil courts have held that employers are legally responsible for the safety and security of their workplaces by ruling that the employer has a duty to:

    Protect employees and customers.

    Warn employees of potential or known threats, risks, or hazards.

    Provide a safe and secure workplace for employees (a duty of care).

    Provide training for employees, supervisors, and managers in identification, prevention, and reporting procedures.

    Address the potential for workplace violence through policies, procedures, and operational guidelines.

    Act in a responsible manner to actual or potential acts of violence.

    Additionally; courts have held employers legally liable for negligent hiring and negligent retention.

    As an employer, you have a legal obligation to protect your employees and customers. Take the steps to prepare your business to be able to identify threats and respond appropriately to workplace violence issues. Develop a plan, communicate your plan, train your managers, and seek help from security experts to ensure you fulfill your duty of care obligation