HR Management & Compliance

Employment Law Tip: Warning Signs of Violent Behavior

In the wake of last week’s horrific violence at Virginia Tech, employers across the nation are asking themselves whether their own workplaces could be vulnerable to a similar tragedy and what can be done to prevent it.

Unfortunately, not all violent incidents can be predicted or headed off. But employers can take affirmative steps to lower the risk that workplace violence will erupt. Among the preventive measures employers can take include: forming a crisis team to spearhead efforts to avoid workplace violence; assessing your organization’s vulnerability; creating a zero-tolerance policy; educating supervisors; publicizing your violence prevention program widely and often; conducting background checks; and using caution with terminations. 


7 Steps for Preventing Workplace Violence

A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management reveals that more than half the companies in the United States have experienced some form of workplace violence.

Learn how to protect your workplace with our free White Paper, 7 Steps for Preventing Workplace Violence.


One of the keys to preventing violence is to understand the warning signs that a worker might be headed for violent behavior. Here’s a list of stress factors, cues, and signals that many psychologists believe may indicate potential for violent behavior in the workplace. Of course, just how significant any of these factors are will depend on the particular situation:

  1. Fascination with (not simply ownership of) weapons.
  2. Alcohol or drug abuse.
  3. Severe stress, possibly from personal problems such as divorce or bankruptcy.
  4. Anguish over a pending or recent demotion, termination, or corporate downsizing.
  5. Poor response to a recent negative performance review.
  6. Decreased or inconsistent job performance.
  7. Increase in noncompliance with company rules and procedures.
  8. History of violent incidents, threats, or reckless or antisocial behavior.
  9. References to notorious incidents of workplace violence or mass shootings.
  10. Psychological deterioration, such as bizarre behavior or sudden unreliability
  11. Social isolation or poor peer relationships.
  12. Incidents of inappropriately crossing a co-worker’s or supervisor’s physical boundaries, such as following someone to the parking lot or home, making calls to a supervisor’s home, or going into someone’s office with a grievance too many times.
  13. Poor personal hygiene, especially deteriorated hygiene.
  14. Other major personality changes, such as appearing inappropriately withdrawn or agitated, or seeming to be out of touch with reality.

Additional Resources:

Defuse the Violence: Protect Your Workforce—And Your Company: An Exclusive Employer Guide from the Employer Resource Institute

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Division Workplace Violence information