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How to Put Together a Workplace Violence Program

By Avetta Marketing
March 26, 2020
8 minutes
How to Put Together a Workplace Violence Program

How to Establish a Workplace Violence Program for Your Business

To define workplace violence, we turn to OSHA who says:

“Workplace violence is violence or threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from verbal threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide...”

What Are the 4 Types of Workplace Violence?

There are four types of workplace violence that threaten the peace and safety of your employees, customers, and bystanders. Is your company at risk for any (or all) of these causes of workplace violence? How high is your risk? 

  1. Criminal Intent: This is the most common type of workplace violence. It involves a perpetrator who has no relationship with the business or its employees. Rather, the violence is random or occurs in connection to a crime being committed (trespassing, robbery, etc.). This category also includes terrorism.

  2. Customer or Client: This type involves a perpetrator who has a relationship with the business. Examples include a client, patient, or student who is under stress. This is the most common type of nonfatal workplace incidents of violence.

  3. Worker-On-Worker: All workplaces are at risk for an employee or past employee who commits violence on the property. However, organizations that don’t commit background checks or that are going through downsizing are the most at risk.

  4. Personal Relationship: This is when a perpetrator doesn’t have a relationship with a business, but has a personal relationship with an employee who becomes the intended victim. Female employees in an abusive relationship have the highest risk.

While evaluating your organization’s risks to the above types of violent perpetrators, it’s important that you don’t profile anyone based on appearances, demographics, or stereotypes. This not only is unfair and can often lead to wrong assessments, but it can have legal ramifications for the organization as well. 


How to Put Together a Workplace Violence Program


What Should You Do In the Event of Workplace Violence?

There are three levels of response to workplace violence:

  1. When there are early warning signs (intimidating, bullying, uncooperativeness, verbal abuse, etc.) then observe, document, and report the incident. The supervisor should meet the offending employee to discuss concerns.

  2. When the situation escalates (arguing, refusing to obey policies, threatening others, etc.) then warn anyone in danger and call emergency personnel if the incident warrants it.

  3. Upon further escalation (destroying property, physically fighting, threatening suicide, etc.) then call 911, remain calm, and secure personal safety.

To learn how to help prevent violence in the workplace from occurring in the first place, reference OSHA’s resources and guidelines for different types of businesses and their inherent risks. Also, the DOL has some great information on how to promote a safe workplace through environment, security, and education as well as a list of some performance/conduct indicators which may be warning signs. 

What Responsibilities Do Employees Have to Prevent Workplace Violence?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act maintains that a place of employment should be:

“free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.”

An OSHA workplace violence standard is not specified, but “the extent of an employer’s obligation to address workplace violence is governed by the General Duty Clause” which states that the following four elements are necessary to prove violation from an employer: 

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which an employee was exposed.

  2. The employer recognized the hazard.

  3. The hazard caused or was likely to cause serious physical harm or death.

  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The U.S. Department of Labor employs more stringent standards to protect employees. Their goal is to support a work environment that is effectively addressed through prevention by breaking down the responsibilities of assessing, investigating, and/or responding to a violent (or potentially violent) situation. As an example of how they address workplace violence employee rights and responsibilities, refer to the below snippets taken from DOL’s own workplace violence program policy book.

Employees (Including Managers and Supervisors) are responsible for:

  • Their own behavior…

  • Promptly reporting actual and/or potential acts of violence…

  • Cooperating fully in investigations…

Managers and Supervisors are additionally responsible for:

  • Being cognizant of situations that have the potential to produce violent behavior...and promptly addressing them...

  • Investigating all acts of violence...and taking the necessary action…

  • Encouraging employees who show signs of seek assistance…

Employee Assistance Program is responsible for:

  • Providing consultation and guidance to supervisors in dealing with employees who exhibit performance and conduct problems…

  • Referring employees needing long-term counseling to appropriate treatment…

  • Participating in conducting threat assessments…

Human Resources is responsible for:

  • Providing technical expertise...on what course of administrative action is most appropriate…

  • Providing advice and counsel regarding personnel rules...

  • Offering training courses to assist employees...

Reducing Workplace Violence


What Is (and Isn’t) Included In a Workplace Violence Program?

Many organizations have instituted Workplace Violence Programs in an effort to help prevent these types of incidents from taking place. Having a Workplace Violence Program (WVP) in place can go a long way toward assessing and resolving risks. Such a program defines policies for how employees are protected from threats, verbal abuse, harassment, and assault through assessing, preventing/controlling, and reacting to violence hazards. 

A WVP should cover the following principles:

  • Equipment use and operation procedures that are designed to decrease risk

  • Education for employees about the conditions that increase the risk of violence

  • Training on how to prevent or diffuse violence

  • Procedural drills to practice what to do in the event of a violent incident 

  • Encouragement for reporting all near-misses or incidents

What isn’t in a workplace violence program is just as important as what is. To best protect workers, a program must not violate contracts or infringe upon workers’ rights, miss key elements, or fail to adequately resolve problems. 

Inadequate programs are those that:

  • Attempt to match workers to violent traits “profiling” 

  • Give psychological tests to weed out potentially violent workers

  • Have zero-tolerance policies that ignore progressive discipline

  • Use threat assessment teams (or crisis intervention teams) to identify and mitigate violent situations instead of properly training all managers and union representatives by a mental health professional

  • Exclude unions in policy-making decisions 

  • Have policies that do not apply equally to all employees, including managers

If you want more guidance for writing your own WVP, download the free on-demand webinar Elements of a Workplace Violence Safety Program - Dos and Don’ts from Avetta

The topics covered include:

  • Identifying and assessing your organization’s vulnerabilities

  • Prioritizing weaknesses and turning them into initiatives

  • Defining what to internally protect and what to transfer (and why)

  • Finding available and free resources

  • Structuring a WPV program in accordance with your organization’s culture


Since there is often no reasonable rationale for violent conduct, no employer is immune from workplace violence, regardless of the policies and procedures put into place. However, the costs and repercussions associated with experiencing even a single incident are too great to let the risks go unchecked. 

 To learn more about workplace violence visit our website, call 844-633-3801, or email [email protected].

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