HR Management & Compliance

4 Types of Workplace Violence

According to SHRM, workplace violence is defined as “a spectrum of behavior—including overt acts of violence, threats, and other conduct—that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others (such as customers, clients, and business associates) on-site or off-site, when related to the organization.”

Many companies also consider workplace harassment and bullying to be forms of workplace violence. Additionally, domestic violence may spill over into the workplace in the form of assaults, threats or other actions by outside parties with whom employees have relationships.

“It includes physically aggressive, violent, or threatening behavior, such as attempts to instill fear in others and intimidation; verbal or physical threats of any sort; and any other conduct that suggests a tendency towards violent behavior.” Di Ann Sanchez told us in a recent BLR webinar.

The SHRM Workplace Violence Survey published in 2012 found that 36 percent of companies reported incidents of workplace violence. What can employers do to reduce the incidence of workplace violence?

Reducing Workplace Violence Starts with Understanding the 4 Types

In order to mitigate the risk of violence in your workplace, it’s critical for you to understand the four main types of workplace violence that could compromise employee safety.

Here are the 4 types:

  1. Criminal intent. “The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism. The vast majority of workplace homicides (85 percent of them) fall into this category.” Sanchez told us.
  2. Customer or client. “The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business.” Sanchez explained.This category includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and any other group for which the business provides services. It is believed that a large portion of customer/client incidents occur in the health care industry in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities; the victims are often patient caregivers. Police officers, flight attendants and teachers are other examples of workers who may be exposed to this kind of workplace violence, which accounts for approximately 3 percent of all workplace homicides.
  3. Worker-on-worker. The perpetrator is an employee or past employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. Worker-on-worker fatalities account for approximately 7 percent of all workplace homicides.
  4. Personal relationship. The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work and accounts for about 5 percent of all workplace homicides.

By understanding these 4 main types of workplace violence, you can now think through measures you can take to prevent them.

For more information on workplace violence, order the webinar recording of “Workplace Violence: Addressing HR-Management Issues, Security Concerns, and More.” To register for a future webinar, visit

Di Ann Sanchez, SPHR, is the founder and president of DAS HR Consulting LLC, a HUB-certified firm focused on creative and non-traditional human resources programs and services. Ms. Sanchez has more than 25 years of experience and has held executive human resources positions with both private and public companies.

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