What is Workplace Violence?

by todaystrainingblog

October 13, 2012


I believe that this is one of the first questions anyone needs to look at and ask when beginning the task of trying to prevent an incident. What exactly is workplace violence and why should I be concerned.

                WPV is not just a term of endearment to the employer or employee. It means a lot of different things to practically everyone you ask.. It is kind of amazing that so many different interpretations can be used on one term.

                Some people will tell you that it only happens when someone comes into the building and kills someone else. That is their only interpretation. Others will tell you that WPV is only when someone gets hurt at work. Hmmmm, I’m sensing a theme here. Only at work or only when someone gets hurt.

                While that is partially true it really misses the entire point. And if you’re not utilizing the entire truth, then you’re thinking, talking, and acting like a politician or at the very least someone trying to hide the truth and get by.

                Not very many people will acknowledge that WPV is a term that has a much wider and more varied definition than what has been said above. What do I mean, you ask? Let me give you my definition of WPV.

                Workplace violence can happen any where, at any time, to anyone for any reason. That means that workplace violence can happen even away from the business and work environment. It is a problem that can occur to any employee at any place. In other words, it can happen even off work. If it happens because of work then it is WPV.

                If it starts at work or ends at work then it is wpV. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean, from recent memory.

                In Glendale Arizona, a pipe bomb went off in a person’s driveway early in the morning. Was it terrorism, racial, religious, or what? In this case, the perpetrator was a co-worker of the victim and the 2 had been having a long running feud at work in the Peoria (Arizona) School District. Because it was work related it is WPV.

                Another incident that occurred in the Phoenix Arizona area in 2004 that I consider WPV is with a bus driver. A bus driver accidentally cut off another vehicle on the highway. The driver of the car came up alongside the bus and started firing at the bus driver. This is WPV. Why?

                The bus driver was at work and working when the incident occurred. It was not a traditional place of work because his moved on a constant basis. But it was WPV. The bus driver was not seriously hurt by the shots and the driver of the other vehicle was arrested.

                There are numerous incidents where a perpetrator has gone to a supervisor’s house and killed them before proceeding to the business to ‘take care of a problem’. If the supervisor is killed and then 4 people are killed at the business, how many are attributed to WPV. According to the government, most of the time only 4 fit the criteria. While it is actually 5 people.

                So what else is considered WPV and not reported as such? What about an incident of a bomb threat in a business? When someone phones in a bomb threat, then it should be considered an incident of WPV, unless it can legitimately be classified as something else, i.e. terrorism or racial tension.

                The purpose of most bomb threats is to disrupt the workplace so that normal functions can’t be accomplished. And when a business has to be evacuated because of a threat, then it should be considered WPV.

                But what else is considered WPV? Ah and here comes the rub with many in the security, psychological, & behavior fields. With what I said above, I consider many instances as WPV, where others may not.

                If an employee gets upset and blows their cork by throwing a stapler across the room next to someone, is that workplace violence? Of course it is! They may not have meant to hit the person, but it certainly was meant to threaten and/or intimidate them. And with the size of the object, there’s no doubt about it.

                If an employee throws a pencil at someone in anger, is that workplace violence? Yes it is. The key here is anger. The same holds true for words.

                If someone is subjected to a barrage of the most ‘bellicose barrel full of bull Durham’ that you have ever heard, that should also be considered WPV as well. It is considered a verbal assault.

                Any incident that begins at work or ends at work should be considered an incident of workplace violence. Any incident that has violence attached to it, no matter what kind should be considered workplace violence, if it happens at a business. Domestic, child, workplace, customer on customer, or any other combinations you can think of.  Any incident that occurs whether someone gets hurt or not should be considered workplace violence. Here is a good example of that;

                Way back in the late 80’s, there was an incident in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. It all involved the new ‘Eur-o-Pee’n blend of coffee, but it was no joke. An employee had been bullied, teased, and generally harassed mercilessly for months. And the company didn’t do anything to stop the treatment.

                One day, the employees began noticing that their coffee tasted a bit funny. The coffee tasted more bitter and pungent than normal. It  made none of them sick it just didn’t taste or smell as good as coffee should. One of them set up a video camera in the break room and guess what they found?  The man who was being teased got his revenge. He was caught urinating into the coffee pot – before brewing the coffee.

                So where is the WPV here? What if this man had been sick with a disease? Something like hepatitis, HIV, Syphilis, or something else that could have been passed along through bodily fluids? It is fortunate that no one got sick over this.

                No one and no company is immune to the potential risk of workplace violence. Remember, it can happen any where, for any reason, to anyone, at any time. And I do mean ANY.


                This blog is an excerpt from my book ‘One is too Many: Recognizing & Preventing Workplace Violence’. It will be published next year, look for more details as they become available.