SLC 2016: More than 60,000 Workers Per Day Are Harassed or Are the Victims of Workplace Violence

Oct. 31, 2016
Employers need to create programs to address workplace violence given the fact that on a daily basis 43,800 employees are harassed; 16,400 threatened, and 723 workers are attacked.

With the proliferation of violence everywhere, including the workplace, safety experts need to understand the scope of the issue explained Tracy L. Moon, Jr. and Steven Loewengart of Fisher & Phillips LLP at the Safety Leadership Conference 2016 held recently.

“You didn’t think you would have to be dealing with these types of issues, including people threatening to commit suicide,” Loewengart told the audience of safety experts.

But they need to, said Loewengart, given the level of violence. On a daily basis, 43,800 employees are harassed, 16,400 threatened and 723 workers are attacked according to research from the Workplace Violence Research Institute.

The concept of harassment is somewhat new. “Workplace violence has a broader view that includes threatening to hurt someone,” said Loewengart.  

He defined workplace violence as against any employee that creates a hostile work environment and negatively affects the employee physically or psychologically. This could include: physical or verbal assault, threats, coercion, intimidation and harassment.

To understand the type of person who has been shown to commit violence the institute created a profile:

  • White male, 35-45 years of age
  • Transient job history
  • A “loner” with little or no family or social support
  • Chronically disgruntled
  • Externalizes blame
  • High maintenance employee
  • Fascination with weaponry
  • Identifies with violence
  • More than a casual user of
    alcohol/or drugs

While it’s important to keep in mind the profile characteristics, Loewengart says that safety professionals must focus on behaviors and not profiles.

The behaviors are not always obvious, he said, and presented the following list compiled by researches of over  200 workplace violence incidents. The research showed that the perpetrator exhibited multiple pre-incident indicators:

  • Increased use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs
  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and personal hygiene
  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Threatens or verbally abuses co-workers and/or supervisors
  • Comments that indicate suicidal tendencies
  • Unstable emotional responses
  • Preoccupation with previous incidents of violence
  • Increased mood swings
  • Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms and
    other weapons
  • Empathy with individuals committing violence
  • Fascination with violent or sexually explicit movies
    or publications
  • Escalation of domestic problems
  • Financial problems
  • Violence Research

A common thread of this list, Loewengart notes, is that many of these behaviors would describe someone who has mental health challenges. The issue is how legally to deal with this. He suggests having well-defined policies.  A policy must have step-by-step criteria on how to handle someone who is verbally abusive or make threats. This procedure will give companies a good defense under ADA or other claims, he explained.

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About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

Focus: Workforce, Talent 

Follow Me on Twitter: @ASelkoIW

Bio: Adrienne Selko has written about many topics over the 17 years she has been with the publication and currently focuses on workforce development strategies. Previously Adrienne was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck? which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics and EHS Today

Editorial mission statement: Manufacturing is the enviable position of creating products, processes and policies that solve the world’s problems. When the industry stepped up to manufacture what was necessary to combat the pandemic, it revealed its true nature. My goal is to showcase the sector’s ability to address a broad range of workforce issues including technology, training, diversity & inclusion, with a goal of enticing future generations to join this amazing sector.

Why I find manufacturing interesting: On my first day working for a company that made medical equipment such as MRIs, I toured the plant floor. On every wall was a photo of a person, mostly children. I asked my supervisor why this was the case and he said that the work we do at this company has saved these people’s lives. “We never forget how important our work is and everyone’s contribution to that.” From that moment on I was hooked on manufacturing.

I have talked with many people in this field who have transformed their own career development to assist others. For example, companies are hiring those with disabilities, those previously incarcerated and other talent pools that have been underutilized. I have talked with leaders who have brought out the best in their workforce, as well as employees doing their best work while doing good for the world. 

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