Workplace Violence

This page provides answers to the following questions:

1. How big a problem is workplace violence, and could it affect me?

2. What is my employer required to do to protect me from violence in the workplace?

3. What can I do to protect myself from violence in the workplace?

4. What should my employer do to start a workplace violence prevention program?

5. What should I do if I am the victim of violence in the workplace?

6. Where can I get further information about the prevention of workplace violence?

1. How big a problem is workplace violence, and could it affect me?

Every year around 2 million American workers are victims of some sort of violence in the workplace. Workplace violence can range from threats and verbal abuse, to physical attacks and homicide. Homicide in the workplace is the leading cause of workplace death for women, and is the second leading cause of workplace death overall behind car accidents. It is estimated that up to 800 people a year are the victims of homicide in American workplaces. Some workers are more vulnerable to workplace violence then others. Workers that are at increased risk include, but are not limited to, workers who handle money publicly (cashiers), work at night in high crime areas (convenience store attendants), or work alone and have extensive contact with the public (taxi drivers, postal workers). However, it is important to be aware that no workplace or worker is immune to violence in the workplace.

back to top

2. What is my employer required to do to protect me from violence in the workplace?

While state laws may vary, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not set any specific standards for workplace violence. OSHA has released guidelines and recommendations for dealing with and preventing workplace violence, such as guidelines for violence protection programs for night retail establishments, however, just because an employer fails to follow these guidelines does not make them automatically responsible in the event of an attack. The only mandatory protection offered by OSHA is the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all covered employees. If an employer fails to protect their employees from a recognized violence hazard in the workplace, they can be cited.

back to top

3. What can I do to protect myself from violence in the workplace?

In order to protect yourself from workplace violence, it is important to report all concerns about safety and all suspicious persons, including coworkers, to your supervisor immediately. Other ways to prevent workplace violence include attending personal safety training programs to learn how to avoid and diffuse violent situations, and talking with your supervisor/employer about implementing zero tolerance policies on workplace violence and starting a workplace violence prevention program.

back to top

4. What should my employer do to start a workplace violence prevention program?

A workplace violence prevention program, as recommended by OSHA, could include:

  • a specific plan for workplace security,
  • a worksite analysis of risk factors, past incidents, security, and safety audits,
  • solutions to known hazards, including, adequate lighting, video surveillance, drop safes and barriers to protect employees,
  • training for employees, security and supervisors, and
  • recording keeping of all incidents, police recommendations and notes from safety meetings and evaluations of the effectiveness current safety plans.

back to top

5. What should I do if I am the victim of violence in the workplace?

If you have already received threats in the workplace, or are already the victim of physical workplace violence, report it immediately to your supervisor and report the incident in writing. If your supervisor or employer does not act or the threat of further violence is serious, report it to the local police. Additionally, if you feel that you were the victim of violence in the workplace due to your employer violating the general duty clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, then you can file a complaint with OSHA at http://osha.gov/pls/osha7/eComplaintForm.html

back to top

6. Where can I get further information about the prevention of workplace violence?

OSHA offers information on workplace violence, including guidelines for late-night retail establishments and for health care and social service industries. For information on these guidelines or any other OSHA publications regarding workplace violence, visit their website at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence

back to top