HR Management & Compliance

How to recognize workplace violence warning signs

How to recognize workplace violence warning signs

Do the supervisors and employees at your organization recognize the warning signs of a possible episode of violence in the workplace?

While most workplaces will never experience a violent episode, no workplace is immune to the potential. The recent workplace shooting at a chicken-processing plant in Fresno, California, is a tragic reminder.

In response to the shooting, we’re posting a training talk, Workplace Violence Warning Signs, excerpted from BLR’s 10-Minute HR Trainer. The training talk will help employees and supervisors recognize the threat of violence in the workplace and be aware of individual or situation warning signs of potential violence.

1. Violence Is a Rare But Serious Problem in the Workplace

  • Workplace violence is more likely in jobs that:
    • Deal with criminals (e.g., police officers, security personnel).
    • Deal with overwrought people (e.g., hospital emergency rooms).
    • Handle cash (e.g., taxis, retail stores, banks).
    • Work alone and/or late at night (e.g., hotels, convenience stores).
  • Workplace violence may also result when a bad personal situation spills over into the workplace (e.g., an abusive spouse comes after a partner who wants to end the relationship).

2. Be Alert to Work Situations That Could Potentially Lead to Violence

People may be more likely to go over the edge into violent behavior at work when they:

  • Are fired or laid off or fear they may be.
  • Receive a warning about their performance or behavior.
  • Believe they’ve been treated unfairly, disrespectfully, or with hostility.
  • Fail to receive a promotion or raise they expected or counted on.
  • Have a hostile relationship with another employee.

Get more tips on how to keep your workplace safe with this free white paper download: 7 Steps for Preventing Workplace Violence

3. Be Alert to Warnings of Potential Violence in an Individual

The more of the following signs a person displays, the greater the risk of violence:

  • Makes threats of violence, getting back at someone, etc.
  • Intimidates others.
  • Gets very angry easily and often.
  • Uses abusive language.
  • Lets people know he or she owns weapons and can use them.
  • Brings weapons to work.
  • Likes to talk about violent crime.
  • Believes others are out to get him or her.
  • Blames problems on others.
  • Holds grudges.
  • Is rigid and inflexible.
  • Has a drug or alcohol abuse problem.
  • Suffers from extreme stress.
  • Demonstrates mood swings.
  • Has a history of violence.

4. Take Action to Spot and Reduce Workplace Violence Potential

  • Follow and enforce workplace security rules.
    • Don’t leave doors open, admit strangers, etc.
    • Report any direct threats of violence or retaliation.
  • Be alert for signals that a potentially violent person’s problems are getting worse.
    • Monitor troubling changes in behavior or circumstances.
    • Recognize that a person can show warning signs of violence but never act violently.
  • Don’t ignore troubling employee behavior, statements, or attitudes.
    • Report your concerns in confidence through proper channels.
    • A person displaying warning signs could be a danger to himself or herself or to others.
  • Be aware of workers’ personal situations that could bring violence to work.
    • Take seriously the concerns of abused spouses, people getting divorced, etc.
  • Have another person present when you have to fire or give a warning to an employee if you’re concerned about possible violence.
  • Get keys, passes, ID numbers, and other entry materials from discharged employees before they leave.
    • Change door codes if employees fail to turn over entry materials.


Workplace violence is a real concern, though it doesn’t happen as often as the headlines might lead you to believe. By following security procedures and being alert to behavioral warning signs, we have a good chance of avoiding a violent incident here.


More articles about Workplace Violence.