Making sure the workplace is safe and that co-workers get along, is part of an HR pro’s job. That means part of the job, is to know the warning signs of potential violence, and to have a system in place for when violence erupts. While there’s no way to know for sure when someone’s going to get violent at work, there are things you can do to prevent it, and punish those who do.
1. Confrontational demeanor- Everybody knows someone who fits this bill, whether at work or in your personal life. Always defensive, and ready to confront any issue they have, big or small. This is a huge red flag that someone is prone to violent eruptions. These people also tend to bring out the worst in otherwise rational people, which can cause a whole slue of other problems. The best way to deal with a confrontational employee is to warn them verbally and with a written notice, as soon as you see them exhibit confrontational behavior.
2. Talking about attacking, or physical violence- While it can sometimes appear to be harmless or even in jest when someone says “I could have smacked the guy!” or something along those lines, it is a huge precursor to actual physical violence and should be taken very seriously. Again the best way to deal with this is a written and verbal warning.
3. Threatening others at work- A threat is a fairly direct sign that someone is contemplating violence at work. One thing to keep in mind however is that the threat doesn’t have to necessarily be a violent one. It could be vague, or a threat to do something else entirely. People who use threats, whether violent or not, tend to be abusive people, who are prone to physical attacks. Depending on the severity of the threat, the course of action can differ. If someone threatens actual physical violence, immediate termination is the appropriate course of action. A lesser punishment may be acceptable if the threat was a completely non-violent one.
4. Talking about weapons- While some people may actually be into weaponry as a hobby, and trying to share this with co-workers, more often than not it comes in the form of a veiled threat. If an employee has exhibited other aggressive or confrontational behavior prior to bringing up their weapons, then this should not be taken lightly. Since bringing a weapon to the workplace, as opposed to getting into a fistfight, can be deadly for everyone, it’s best to terminate these employees immediately. On the off chance that a person is just sharing a hobby somewhat inappropriately, and has never come off dangerous or hot-headed before, you may let them off with just a warning, and a suggestion to speak about that particular hobby outside of work.
5. Any form of aggressive, abusive, or other bullying behavior- If someone is being aggressive, or bullying others at work, this is a huge problem. Not only does it effect the person being victimized, but it is a good indicator that the person doing the bullying is at a high risk to elevate their bad behavior. Depending on the severity of the behavior, the punishments should vary. If there’s any physical contact whatsoever, the employee should be terminated immediately. Otherwise a written or verbal warning may be enough.
A zero-tolerance policy for violence in your office is always the best policy. Some of the above listed warning signs aren’t worthy of immediate termination, but they are very serious indicators that it could become a problem and should be dealt with as such. While most workplace safety issues have a 5-step system, for potentially violent employees, it’s best to reduce that to a 3, or even 2 step system. So if an employee gets 2 or 3 written and verbal notices for any potentially violent behavior they should be terminated. It’s not the most fun topic to discuss, but workplace violence needs to be talked about, so you can be prepared, if it ever occurs. Keeping employees safe is a top priority, and weeding out dangerous employees is a sure way to do that.