Violent Employees – How to Spot them and What to Do About Them

By October 19, 2003Articles

OSHA estimates that employee violence accounts for 10 percent of workplace
homicide, and that percentage includes temporaries and subcontractors who are in the workplace
temporarily. It also includes domestic violence. The remainder (90%) of workplace violence according to OSHA comes from outside criminal activity, such as armed robbery or client/customer violence (when a lawyer is attacked by a client—THAT’S NOT FUNNY!)

How can employers identify employees who are in danger of going over the edge and taking co-workers along? Well for starters, workplace violence consists of two kinds of violent acts–actual physical assaults and credible threats of physical assaults. Although there is not a single profile of a potentially violent worker, as they come from all walks of life, experts have found the following general characteristics exhibited by violent employees:
*Typically a white male, age 30 to 55
*Low self-esteem
*Loner–does not socialize with other employees
*Regular complainer
*May threaten co-workers or his boss
*Co-workers are uncomfortable with or frightened by him
*Is very interested in military or paramilitary subjects
*Is a weapon or gun collector
*May have drug or alcohol abuse problems
*Has made several physical or emotional injury claims in the past
An employee’s characteristics are one element of identification. More telling may be
changes in the employee’s behavior that may lead a supervisor or manager or co-worker to see difficulties on the horizon. Experts point to the following changes:
*An employee who had a good attendance record is suddenly late to work or absent
a lot. Or an employee with a good track record suddenly starts leaving work without authorization or takes abnormally long lunch breaks.
*Changes in physical appearance. An employee stops taking care of his/her appearance and ignores grooming, washing hair, etc.
*Cannot concentrate at work–is easily distracted.
*Has difficult time interacting with other workers.
*Suddenly becomes very interested in weapons.
*Shows signs of substance abuse
*Exhibits extreme outbursts of rage or crying
Every employer, no matter how small, show have a zero-tolerance policy as to workplace violence. The policy should be specific as to the types of conduct that will violate the policy such as, bullying, serious verbal aggression, physical aggression, violent threats, and horseplay. The employer’s policy statement should clearly put employees on notice that they are subject to immediate termination for policy violations.

Encourage workers to notice and identify behavior that is strange and perhaps alarming.
Supervisors must be encouraged and trained to act on their own good instincts and the reasonable
observations of others. Train supervisors to spot troubled employees. As soon as an employee shows extreme anger or aggressive behavior or physically or verbally threatens to harm another employee, it is time for the employee to go. It is critical to terminate the employee carefully and humanely–for obvious reasons.

To protect employees from violence by a former employee, customer or a third party, having a security force in place always helps. But for employers who cannot afford private security and who nevertheless want to prevent violence from occurring in the workplace by keeping dangerous individuals off premises, then consider seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and permanent injunction under Code of Civil Procedure Section Sections 527.6 and 527.8. The legal procedure for employers and employees to obtain a TRO is a relatively inexpensive and quick process, and will be the subject of next month’s Labor Law Update.

For any questions or comments regarding this Labor Law Update please contact attorney Michael Daly of the Daly Law Firm at (619) 525-7000 or

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