If you feel as though you have been threatened with violence in your workplace or have experienced violence, you may not know where to turn. What can you do to keep yourself safe from coworkers or if the person threatening you is a supervisor, manager, or one of your company’s biggest customers? Understanding how to handle workplace threats is the first step in preventing violence towards yourself and others.
There are a number of types of threats that can occur in the workplace:
- Threats made by a coworker to another coworker
- Threats made by a customer to an employee
- Threats made by an employee to a customer
- Threats made by a supervisor to a subordinate
- Threats made by a coworker to a manager or executive
Let’s look at how each of these situations could be handled:
Many people who commit violence in the workplace may be in a situation where they cannot cope with stress or are struggling with a mental illness that leaves them acting in ways they normally would not. The person may take medications that help them to cope better but for one reason or another have stopped taking these medications. For example they may become more reactive or agitated over time and find it increasingly difficult to cope, then may start to behave more erratically. If you notice serious behavioral changes by a coworker it may be helpful to discuss this with your supervisor.
However, if you notice bizarre behavior, or escalating threatening language, then notify HR or company management immediately so that the person and situation can be professionally assessed. This is not to defend anyone who commits workplace violence or makes excuses. There is never any excuse for violence in the workplace.
There are many cases where coworkers noticed that ‘something was off’ with an individual, but no one wanted to be seen as overreacting or accusing someone of being a violent person. Unfortunately, some of these cases involve violence because the individual never received help and eventually acted out their threatened behaviors. Had HR or the person’s supervisor been notified, they may have been able to diffuse these situations before anyone was hurt.
By reporting any threatening behavior, HR and the individual’s supervisor can become involved. They can look into the individual’s behaviors and make recommendations to have an external professional security team make a threat risk assessment. They may suggest the person seek medical help or be placed on a leave of absence for a short period of time. Regardless of the solution, your company should be advised that there are concerns for potential violence at work.
A company cannot act on information they don’t have. If you feel that someone is not acting normally, take note of it and pass that information on to a supervisor or HR. Even if you don’t feel as though there’s anything of serious concern, write out what occurred as soon as you can. This way, if the person’s behavior continues, you have documented notes to turn over to HR. Remember, the sooner you report the risk of violence, the more likely it is that no one will be hurt and the situation can be diffused.