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Workplace Violence and Bullying

29 October, 2015 - 09:24

According to OSHA, 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year.  1 OSHA addresses some of the workers who are at increased risk for workplace violence:

  1. Workers who exchange money with the public
  2. Workers who deliver goods, passengers, or services
  3. People who work alone or in small groups
  4. Workers who work late at night or early in the morning
  5. Workers who work in high-crime areas

It is up to the organization and human resources to implement policies to ensure the safety of workers and provide a safe working environment. OSHA provides tips to provide a safer workplace:

  1. Establish a workplace violence prevention policy, with a zero tolerance policy.
  2. Provide safety education.
  3. Secure the workplace with cameras, extra lighting, and alarm systems.
  4. Provide a drop safe to limit the amount of cash on hand.
  5. Provide cell phones to workers.
  6. Require employees to travel in groups using a “buddy system.”

Development of workplace policies surrounding these items is important. Ongoing training and development in these areas are key to the creation of a safe workplace. While outside influences may affect employee safety, it is also important to be aware of the employee’s safety from other employees. There are several indicators of previolence as noted by the Workplace Violence Research Institute:  2

  1. Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  2. Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  3. Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  4. Depression and withdrawal
  5. Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  6. Threats or verbal abuse to coworkers and supervisors
  7. Repeated comments that indicate suicidal tendencies
  8. Frequent, vague physical complaints
  9. Noticeably unstable emotional responses
  10. Behavior indicative of paranoia
  11. Preoccupation with previous incidents of violence
  12. Increased mood swings
  13. Has a plan to “solve all problems”
  14. Resistance and overreaction to changes in procedures
  15. Increase of unsolicited comments about firearms and other dangerous weapons
  16. Repeated violations of company policies
  17. Escalation of domestic problems

Workplace Violence

A video on workplace violence training.

Please view this video at

Anyone exhibiting one or more of these preincident indicators should get the attention of HRM. The HR professional should take appropriate action such as discussing the problem with the employee and offering counseling.

Workplace bullying is defined as a tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent or repeated aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a coworker or subordinate. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of workers have reported being bullied at work. This number is worth considering, given that workplace bullying reduces productivity with missed work days and turnover. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that litigation and settlement of bullying lawsuits can cost organizations $100,000 to millions of dollars, in addition to the bad publicity that may be created. Examples of workplace bullying include the following:

  1. Unwarranted or invalid criticism
  2. Blame without factual information
  3. Being treated differently than the rest of your work group
  4. Humiliation
  5. Unrealistic work deadlines
  6. Spreading rumors
  7. Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work

In an Indiana Supreme court case, a hospital employee who was repeatedly bullied by a surgeon sued for emotional distress and won. This ruling drew national attention because it was an acknowledgment by the courts of the existence of workplace bullying as a phenomenon.  3 Prevention of workplace bullying means creating a culture in which employees are comfortable speaking with HR professionals and managers (assuming they are not the ones bullying) about these types of situations. Similar to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is defined as use of the Internet or technology used to send text that is intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Examples include using Facebook to post negative comments or setting up a fake e-mail account to send out fake e-mails from that person. Comments or blogs and posts that show the victim in a bad light are other examples of cyberbullying. Similar to workplace bullying, cyberbullying is about power and control in workplace relationships. Elizabeth Carll’s research on cyberbullying shows that people who experience this type of harassment are more likely to experience heightened anxiety, fear, shock, and helplessness, which can result in lost productivity at work and retention issues,  4 a major concern for the HR professional. The US Justice Department shows that some 850,000 adults have been targets of online harassment.  5 Many states, including New York, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Maryland, have passed laws against digital harassment as far back as 2007.  6 In a recent cyberbullying case, a US Court of Appeals upheld a school’s discipline of a student for engaging in off-campus cyberbullying of another student.  7In the case, the victim said a MySpace profile was created that included inappropriate pictures of her, and the page’s creator invited other people to join. The student who created the page sued the school after she was disciplined for it, saying it violated her right to free speech, but courts found that students do not have the right to cyberbully other students. While it seems that cyberbullying is for young people, as mentioned earlier, 35 percent of American workers feel they have been bullied. Bullying should be identified immediately and handled, as it affects workplace productivity, customer satisfaction, and eventually, profits.