Violence in the workplace is a big problem for employers in all types of business; when a violent act occurs and injury results, an employer may be held responsible if it is shown that the offender’s propensity for violence should have been anticipated; the cost to employers stemming from workplace violence is more than $4.2 billion dollars every year. Those costs are a combination of lost work, production, and legal fees paid by employers who have been found to be negligent in some way.

Although there is no way to entirely prevent violence in the workplace, violent acts can often be prevented with a system that includes knowing what the warning signs of workplace violence are, and educating the larger workforce to them. Initiatives to learn and act on what may be considered “foreseeable conduct” in a legal proceeding can often release some or all of the liability of the employer should an unfortunate situation arise. More importantly, though, knowing the warning signs of workplace violence will help prevent violent acts within the workplace, thereby protecting the company, its property, and its valued staff.

Studies have shown that there is a great deal of characteristic similarity among violent workers, and that workers overwhelmingly exhibit warning signs before committing a violent act. Signs may be verbal or physical in nature; both employers and employees should become adept at recognizing both.

Verbal warning signs of workplace violence include:

  • Tone of voice—angry or threatening
  • Unreasonable demands of peers or employers
  • Verbal threats
  • Irrational or nonsensical talk
  • Talk of weapons or using weapons
  • Swearing
  • Shouting, yelling or screaming
  • Defiant challenges to rules and/or authority figures
  • Degrading others
  • Lewd or sexual remarks

Physical warning signs of workplace violence include:

  • Staring
  • Angry or threatening looks
  • Clenching of the jaws or fists
  • Pacing, nervousness, restlessness
  • Tight grip on objects
  • Indication of substance use/abuse, including stumbling or staggering, slurred speech
  • Symptoms and signs of stress and frustration (may exhibit as frequent accidents)
  • Possession of weapon, or keeping a weapon nearby
  • Significant changes to appearance, character, or habits
  • Violent reactions/gestures, including hitting walls, breaking objects, pounding objects

Multimillion-dollar awards have been made in lawsuits where employers were found to have failed at noticing or acting upon the warning signs of workplace violence. For the protection of all involved, and the protection of the business as a whole, it is essential that employers conduct background and criminal checks when necessary, and learn to preempt dangerous situations by knowing what signs of workplace violence they and their employees should be on the lookout for.