What are workplace violence warning signs? Unfortunately, most employees probably think violence in the workplace involves some obvious threat of physical attack.

But, we must understand what workplace violence is before we can understand the warning signs. According to the (USDA) U.S. Department of Agriculture says “Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, contractors, and other non-Federal employees.”


The (OSHA) Occupational Safety Health Act says, “Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.” Whatever the definition it is a big problem that’s getting worse. Hello, I’m Yancey and as an employee I have witnessed certain behaviors that have lead to workplace harassment and violence.

The first thing everyone in the workplace should be aware of is it’s not easy to know when someone is ready to go off! All people in the workplace will not show the following signs before it becomes violent.

  • verbal abuse
  • frequent arguments
  • foul and insulting language
  • threats of violent attacks

The causes of workplace violence may begin with “minor” things, then explode into psychological and physical attacks. However, an employee may show one or two of these job violence warning signs and never become violent. Since co-workers are sometimes completely surprised when an employee goes berserk, it’s important for them and employers to look at a whole range of behaviors that could be the best warning signs of violence.


workplace violence warning signs

Someone who is “having a bad day” or brings their personal problems to work with them doesn’t mean they will resort to job violence. Employees experiencing levels of high stress may be prime candidates for the aforementioned workplace violence. A violent incident is usually “sparked” by something that causes the employee in question to erupt. This is especially true if the individual is already feeling vulnerable or has low self esteem.

Career seekers and employees here is the BEST TIP I can give to help you recognize signs of potential workplace violence. As always, this involves learning your basic employee rights before seeking and accepting employment! The company you’re working for or wanting to work for may allow or condone an atmosphere that actually encourages the possibility for workplace violence.

Research reveals that employers can actually create a potential “war zone” for violent behavior on the job. There are many workplace violence warning signs that make a company a prime target.

Here are some of the questions I would want answers to before I walk in the door as an employee.

  • Does the business have a history of violent incidents?
  • what does the Better Business Bureau have to say about the employer?
  • What info does law enforcement have on the company?
  • Is a culture of disparate or discriminatory treatment of certain employees tolerated?
  • Are true “problem” employees disciplined or are they protected?
  • Does the employer manage by intimidation instead of respect and cooperation?
  • What is the process for conducting an appropriate employee background check to validate prior employment character and performance?
  • Are the lines of communication from top management open to addressing employee concerns?
  • How are laid off or terminated employees treated in the exit process?
  • What are the results of any state human rights commission investigations of the employer?
  • What are the results of any (EEOC) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigations of the company?

Unfortunately, most job applicants and employees never think about the implications on their employment experience by not asking these and other questions when preparing for an interview.


workplace violence warning signs

Every employee who may exhibit workplace violence warning signs will be different. Managers and co-workers should be sure to observe any negative changes in conduct. How often these changes take place and are they increasingly becoming a problem? Because of the potential complexity of the issue, intervention and assistance for prevention may have to come from outside sources.

Many times its what the persons “body is saying” instead of what he or she is saying that is the best warning sign of violence. The following are examples of physical changes in conduct that could be warning signs of potential violent behavior.

clenched fists angry yelling
getting to close sweating
heavy or fast breathing foul language
shaking or trembling frowning
threatening movements finger pointing


As I mentioned earlier there is no one specific indicator of “who will go off” and when. The full range of violence in the workplace warning signs include the manager or employee’s personality, motives, actions and intentions. It also reveals the individual’s state of mind in any given situation.

When employers and co-workers observe these traits occurring prior to the actual violent act they should with appropriate training be better equipped to keep the violence from occurring.


workplace violence warning signs

Here are some other patterns of behavior that may be present prior to an act of workplace violence.

High personal stress level
Is the employee dealing with trouble at home or with finances?

Is there a pattern of violence?
The employee may have a history of violent behavior. He or she may have an obsession with guns or other weapons. The person may throw or destroy things in fits of rage.

Frequent threats of violence
The employee routinely talks and writes about physically harming someone.

Attitude of intimidation
The individual is always uncooperative and loves to argue. “Goes off” at the drop of a hat. May display unjustified anger and hates authority.

Dark personality
He or she is always a “victim” and doesn’t tolerate criticism. Co-workers and management are to blame for any mistakes the person makes.

Socially challenged
The employee is unable to get along with others and is the “classic loner”.

Bizarre behavior
Your co-worker frequently makes irrational nonsensical statements. Extreme mood swings are evident with high anxiety. The employee may talk to themselves and show signs of depression. The individual may talk about suicide. Any of these behaviors could be indications of substance abuse and or mental illness.

workplace violence warning signs

As an employee I’m going to be really concerned when I see any combination of workplace violence warning signs in co-workers, managers, business owners and others in the workplace. Employees have options to deal with this problem.

  • Report your concern about anyone on the job to management or the human resource department.

  • Learn all you can about the company’s workplace violence prevention program. If the employer wants to stay in business it should have one.

  • Your employer may also have an (EAP) employee assistance program to help employees deal with problems on and off the job.

Under (OSHA) guidelines the employer is bound by what’s called the “General Duty Clause“, which means it is required to provide a workplace that’s free from any recognized hazard that may cause serious physical harm or death to employees. That’s why every employer should have a well thought out workplace violence prevention program to minimize the risk of violence.

Anyone in the workplace should make it their business to learn all they can about workplace violence warning signs and preventing workplace violence.

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