Workplace violence is the act or threat of violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults directed toward persons at work or on duty.  Workplace violence, whether from an inside or outside source, can result in serious physical injury and death to employees in a variety of work settings. There are five categories of workplace violence, each having its own unique set of motivating factors. 

They are:

  • Robbery and other commercial crimes;
  • Domestic and misdirected affection cases;
  • Employer-directed violence;
  • Situations involving law enforcement or security officers; and
  • Terrorism or hate crimes.

One or all of these categories of workplace violence can occur anywhere and among any type of worker and results can be fatal or nonfatal. Many risk factors come into play, but places of businesses where there is an exchange of money, employees may be working alone or isolated, the business is located in high crime areas, alcohol is involved, or employees come in contact with volatile/unstable individuals can all contribute to potential violence.

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The best deterrent to workplace violence is to conduct adequate screening that prevents the hiring of individuals with a history of violent behavior. Employers should establish a zero-tolerance policy for threatening or engaging in violent behavior, providing for employee disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. Supervisors and employees should be trained to look for warning signs of workplace violence and how to prevent it. An employee assistance program should be provided for counseling and referral.

A crisis management or threat assessment team can be a great business resource. This team can evaluate incidents and provide a mechanism for employees to report threatening situations. 

Access control should be exercised to limit the traffic flow and the number of non-employees in the workplace. A violence reaction plan should be developed that includes emergency aid and post-incident response measures.

Management commitment, including the endorsement and visible involvement of top management, provides the motivation and resources to deal effectively with workplace violence.

This commitment should include:

  • Demonstrating organizational concern for employee emotional and physical safety and health.
  • Exhibiting equal commitment to the safety and health of workers and patients/clients.
  • Assigning responsibility for the various aspects of the workplace violence prevention program to ensure that all managers, supervisors and employees understand their obligations.
  • Allocating appropriate authority and resources to all responsible parties.
  • Maintaining a system of accountability for involved managers, supervisors and employees.
  • Establishing a comprehensive program of medical and psychological counseling and debriefing for employees experiencing or witnessing assaults and other violent incidents.
  • Supporting and implementing appropriate recommendations from safety and health committees.

Learn more in the NC Department of Labor's Workplace Violence Prevention Guidelines and Program for Health Care, Long Term Care and Social Services Workers handbook.

Employee involvement and feedback enable workers to develop and express their own commitment to safety and health and provide useful information to design, implement and evaluate the program. Employee involvement should include: 

  • Understanding and complying with the workplace violence prevention program and other safety and security measures. 
  • Participating in employee complaint or suggestion procedures covering safety and security concerns.
  • Reporting violent incidents promptly and accurately.
  • Participating in safety and health committees or teams that receive reports of violent incidents or security problems, make facility inspections and respond with recommendations for corrective strategies. 
  • Taking part in a continuing education program that covers techniques to recognize escalating agitation, assaultive behavior or criminal intent and discusses appropriate responses.

Learn more in the NC Department of Labor's Workplace Violence Prevention Guidelines and Program for Health Care, Long Term Care and Social Services Workers handbook.

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Workers have the right to:

  • Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
  • Receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary the worker understands) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • File a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA's rules. OSHA will keep all identities confidential.
  • Exercise their rights under the law without retaliation, including reporting an injury or raising health and safety concerns with their employer or OSHA. If a worker has been retaliated against for using their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA as soon as possible, but no later than 30 days.

For additional information, see OSHA's Workers page.

How to Contact OSHA
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to help ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), TTY 1-877-889-5627.

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