Workplace Violence: Warning Signs & Risk Factors

There are warning signs for workplace violence. Let us help you identify them and make an informed decision with your workplace violence claim.

Workplace violence and harassment is far more prevalent in certain fields such as correction and public health care. That being said, workplace violence and workplace harassment can appear in any work environment. To find out what is workplace violence, read our introductory article,here.

It is up to the employer and those managing the workplace to properly conduct the proper health and safety protocols to ensure that a workplace is safe and free of violence and harassment. It is the duty of your workplace to ensure proper physical and mental health; never should the workplace contribute to harassment or violence through the form of employee bullying or exposure to violent behavior such as uncontrolled anger. Understanding the risk factors and warning signs of workplace violence can aid to the better health and safety of a workplace, as well as save many individuals from potential harm.

Many employees throughout the nation, and specifically in Ontario, are searching for ways to properly manage workplace violence and their exposure to such. The harm that is can do leads to poor mental health and physical disability, granting one to file disability claims and seek disability leave. Dreading going to work, managing imposed mental health disorders as a result of your workplace is never something an employee should settle for; know the warning signs and understand how your workplace should be implementing preventative measures. If you feel that your workplace is not properly catering to workplace violence and harassment prevention, if you are suffering from a mental health disability or physical disability as a result of workplace violence or harassment, you should get in contact with a disability claim and personal injury lawyer for a consultation about a potential case. There should be zero tolerance when it comes to this matter.

Workplace Violence and Harassment Risk Factors

The Government of Canada’s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has made comprehensive efforts to provide as much information on workplace violence, its warning signs and risk factors. We have abstracted information from their psychosocial violence answers fact sheets focusing on violence in the workplace.

What increases the risk of violence in the workplace? / Who are most at risk from workplace violence?

There are certain known factors that can put people at risks from workplace violence.
Certain things such work processes and interactions increase the risks, and include:

  • Working with and in the public
  • Handling money and valuables (E.g. cashiers)
  • Handling prescription drugs (E.g. pharmacists)
  • Doing inspections or carrying out enforcement duties (E.g. government employees, housing inspectors)
  • Providing care, advice, or education (E.g. teachers, counselors, health-care staff)
  • Working with unstable or volatile people (E.g. social services, criminal justice)
  • Working in premises where alcohol is served / sold (E.g. waiters, LCBO employees)
  • Isolated work or low traffic areas (E.g. store clerks, real estate agents)
  • Community-based settings (E.g. social workers, home care workers)
  • Mobile workstations (E.g. taxicabs, public transit)
  • Working during times of intense organizational change (E.g. temps during strikes)

It is important to also note that certain times during the day or night have higher risks of violence. Working during the late hours of the night or early hours of the mourning, as well as during holidays can increase one’s potential exposure to violence and harassment. Furthermore, there are certain times of the year where stress levels amongst populations are higher, thus increasing the risk of being confronted by a potentially violent encounter (ex. Tax season, utility bill cut-off dates, performance appraisals etc.)

How to identify if your workplace is at risk:

It is important to know if fellow employees are worried about their health and safety within the workplace. If you feel insecure, review existing incident reports, first aid reports and any health and safety committee records to gain a full understanding of the violent incidents that have occurred. Understand your workplace’s design and layout, along with your work duties and general work practices. Awareness of such will better indicate any history or potential for violence in your workplace.

It may be wise to seek advice from local police or security experts about how to protect yourself if you are at risk for workplace violence exposure.

Learning About Warning Signs

The lists below outline common warning signs for workplace violence and harassment, as provided by the CCOHS.

If you are concerned about workplace violence or workplace harassment – TAKE ACTION. Report your concerns to your supervisor or human resources as soon as possible.

Troubled Person or Employee

Small incidents involving things such as negative remarks or inappropriate behaviour is a commonplace for initial workplace violence to begin. It is important to understand that the following behaviours do not necessarily mean that a person will become violent, but they do indicate that an individual is experiencing high levels of stress that can escalate a violent situation.

It is important that you take note of any changes in behaviour patterns of an individual at work. If the frequency and intensity of such behaviors become disruptive to the work environment, and someone is exhibiting many of the following behaviours, it is important you proceed with caution and access the proper supports to prevent workplace violence and/or harassment.

  • Disrespect for authority, acceptable conduct, and/or health and safety of others
  • Crying, sulking, temper tantrums
  • Swearing or emotional language
  • Unsatisfactory work quality and/or refusal to acknowledge problems with job performance
  • Faulty decision making
  • Inappropriate statements
  • Forgetfulness, distraction, inability to focus
  • Blaming and nagging others
  • Talking about the same problem repeatedly without taking action to resolve them
  • Insistence that they are always right
  • Misinterpretation of communications or events taking place with supervisors or co-workers
  • Social isolation
  • Sudden and/or unpredictable change in energy levels
  • Holds grudges, especially against their supervisor
  • Verbalizes hope that something negative will happen to a person within the workplace (ex. those they hold grudges against)

Physical Signs of a Person’s Potential to Be Violent

Assessing one’s body language can help identify potentially violent people within the workplace.

  • Sudden flushed or pale face
  • Excessive sweating
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Repetitive movements
  • Signs of extreme fatigue (ex. dark circles under eyes)
  • Trembling / shaking
  • Clenched fists and/or jaw
  • Violent gestures
  • Loud talking / yelling / chanting
  • Use of abusive language
  • Scowling or sneering
  • Glaring or avoiding eye contact
  • Violating other’s personal space
  • Exaggerated gestures

Warning Signs of a Potentially Violent Person

When you note a pattern of warning signs in a person’s behaviour, you should contact a supervisor or Human Resources immediately. Your organization should have a workplace violence prevention policy or program that identifies hazards and reduces the risk of workplace violence and harassment. It is important to take note of an individual’s pattern of:

  • History of violence
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Intimidating behaviour
  • Increase in stress
  • Negative personality characteristics
  • Inappropriate or negative changes in mood or behaviour
  • Social isolation
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol

Desk Job Setting

Forbes business magazine has written several articles in the recent years about workplace violence and its presence in corporate offices and desk job settings throughout America (you can review in full here). Unfortunately, the prevalence of workplace violence stemming from managers and those in charge is common. Many employees face “higher-up” employees who abuse their power by displaying uncontrolled anger which they feel they are entitled to display and subject other employees to. “Going of the handle” on employees who haven’t reached unrealistic deadlines, or an assistant who didn’t get your coffee order correct – this is abuse. It does not matter what status you hold in the workplace; you are not to abuse or bully any employee.

Corporate and executive coach Michael Staver, who is also a trained psychologist, explains that the escalation of violence in the workplace can be broken down into three stages:

  1. An initial event takes place that triggers one’s anger
  2. There is an escalation of emotions experienced by the angered individual
  3. A violent act / crisis takes place

It is possible for these stages to take place in rapid succession, but they also can happen over a much longer period of time. Staver suggests that employees should watch out for the following warning signs:

  • Excessive Complaining / Whining (especially if sudden or counter to usual behaviour)
  • Withdrawal (ex. trouble with coping)
  • Abnormal Changes In Behaviour
  • Obsessive Thoughts / Patterns in Conversation (ex. voicing dislikes, unfairness, etc.)
  • Dramatic & Unreasonable Demands (ex. impatience, irrational decision)
  • Personal Insults (ex. Anger outbursts, sudden verbal attacks)
  • Threats (ex. Any expression of wanting to do harm)

Staver warns that one should NOT try and negate or disagree with a colleague who is displaying such behaviour. Nor should they empathize or validate any of their feelings by agreeing with them. You want to avoid escalating behaviour. The minute someone utters a threat, it needs to be reported immediately to Human Resources, or the person in charge who is suppose to handle such matters. Unfortunately, when these situations are mishandled or go unreported, they can escalate and lead to detrimental, and at times lethal outcomes. Being aware of what is healthy and safe for a workplace, even a desk job, can save lives and prevent many from suffering from mental and physical harm within the workplace.

Contacting a Toronto Disability Lawyer

If you are exposed to workplace violence, it is important to make sure you are protected by a workplace violence prevention program that is imposed by your management team. If your superiors are negligent to your health and safety on the job, if you are consistently exposed to workplace violence and have been victim to a workplace injury (whether be a physical injury or harm to your mental health), we highly suggest you contact a personal injury lawyer.

If you have filed a disability claim relating to an incident of workplace violence and/or harassment, if you are seeking short-term disability or long-term disability and have received a denied insurance claim, you will benefit greatly from speaking with a disability claims lawyer about your case. By speaking to a lawyer who specializes in disability insurance, you will gain immediate insight into your legal rights to benefit coverage. A disability claims lawyer will help you navigate through the claims process and assume all communication with your insurance company if things become too stressful.

As a personal injury lawyer and disability claims specialist, we offer the best advice and source of support when dealing with an injury or disability sustained as a result of workplace violence and/or harassment. TSF Law is one of Ontario’s top legal firms offering legal support to many individuals who have encountered workplace violence and harassment. We offer free consultations over the phone and in person; we make sure that no case is left unknown. Contact us today; TSF Law is always there for you.