3 Workplace Violence Levels and How to Address Them

Early signs of workplace violence or workplace bullying can include intimidating behavior, verbal abuse, or changes in typical behavior patterns.
Published: May 22, 2019

People who commit acts of violence typically exhibit warning signs beforehand. Whether those acts are carried out in a school, a hospital, a place of worship or a private residence, people who know a perpetrator will often say, at the very least, something was “off” with the individual or their behavior was questionable.

Workplace violence is no different. Oftentimes, we are so consumed with our own hectic lives, both inside and outside of work, that these signs either go unnoticed or are ignored because we don’t want to get in other people’s “business.”

Much of our Campus Safety audience belongs to occupational groups that are most at risk for experiencing workplace violence: healthcare employees, police, security officers and education providers. It is essential that we educate ourselves on the warning signs often shown by a violent perpetrator to protect both ourselves and other campus constituents.

As part of FEMA’s training, employees are educated on a plethora of topics, including workplace violence and workplace bullying awareness. The Department of Labor, which houses the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), also provides similar material.

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In addition to the types of workplace violence, these agencies cover warning signs levels and what to do if you find yourself uncomfortable with someone’s behavior.

Level 1 – Intimidation (Early signs)

Also referred to as workplace bullying, this can include:

  • Disrespectful/discourteous or intimidating/bullying behavior
    • Personal insults, unreasonable demands, spreading rumors
  • Uncooperativeness
    • Blaming others for mistakes, constant complaining, argumentative, challenging authority or peers
  • Verbal abuse
    • Swearing, yelling, making inappropriate statements

Michael Staver, a corporate and executive coach who used to work as a psychologist in a mental hospital, told Forbes that verbal threats are the most common sign that violence could occur.

Some other concerning behavior to keep an eye on include obsessive thought patterns, withdrawal or a change in typical behavior.

If you find yourself experiencing intimidation or bullying in the workplace, FEMA and the Department of Labor recommend you:

  • Document the questionable behavior
  • Report your concerns to a supervisor or human resources

Level 2 – Escalation of the Situation

This can include:

  • An employee who argues with customers, vendors or other employees
  • An employee who believes they are victimized by management or handles criticism poorly
  • Refusal to obey company policies and procedures
  • Stealing or sabotaging equipment and property for revenge
  • Verbalizing wishes to hurt coworker(s)
    • Making threatening statements such as “Just you wait” or “Watch your back”
  • Stalking, harassing or exhibiting excessive focus on another worker
  • Making direct or indirect threats

If an employee is exhibiting a Level 2 threat, you should:

  • Call Federal Protective Service or 9-1-1, if warranted
  • Secure your own safety and the safety of others
  • Contact a supervisor or human resources
  • Document the behavior in question

Level 3 – Further Escalation

Further escalation typically results in an emergency response. Level 3 warning signs can include:

  • Suicidal threats
  • Physical fights with co-workers
  • Destruction of property
  • Concealing a weapon
  • Displaying extreme rage, such as pounding on desks, punching walls, throwing objects

If facing a Level 3 threat, be sure to call 9-1-1, leave the area if your safety is at risk, and cooperate with responding law enforcement.

Complaining that you are frustrated with a co-worker or that you wish your benefits were better is normal. While many (if not all) of us voice frustrations with our place of work, most do not include threats or resorting to physical or verbal abuse.

We preach “see something, say something” to the younger population. Let’s make sure we’re doing the same. Protect yourself and your co-workers by always speaking up if something just doesn’t seem right.

Looking for additional resources on workplace violence or workplace bullying prevention, education and statistics? Here are some past articles covered by CS:

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Strategy & Planning Series
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