No company is immune from violence in the workplace. There are many types of workplace violence. Among the headline grabbing examples past have been:

  • A former OC Transport employee gunned down four staff members in Ottawa with a high-powered rifle
    before killing himself.
  • A Sears Canada store manager shot and killed a woman subordinate who had complained of sexual harassment — and then withdrew the complaint — and then shot himself.

Triggers of Violence

Some industries seem more prone to workplace violence, including postal workers, nurses and other high stress or regimented structures. Other triggers to violence include authoritarian management, secretive company policies, employees feeling ostracized, taunted, ridiculed, unrecognized or overstressed, as well as the arrival of a new boss or stiff competition among work groups.

And not all violence comes from within. Potential outside threats to the harmony and safety of your company include former employees seeking revenge, dangerous outsiders, violent customers or suppliers, and the general public.

As an employer you need to ask yourself what you can do to prevent and minimize violence in your company. The first and most critical step is to have a well-publicized formal policy clearly stating your commitment to preventing violence. The policy should, at the very least, include:

1. A definition of workplace violence in precise, concrete language, keeping in mind the various sources of violence.

2. A statement of zero tolerance for any act of violence, aggression, harassment or bullying.

3. A clear outline of everyone’s responsibilities.

4. Processes to prevent and report incidents, ensuring confidentiality and protection for whistle blowers.

5. A description of the processes in place to prevent and report incidents of violence.

6. A detailed description of the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints.

7. A clear statement of the consequences of violating the policy.
8. A company commitment to training and educating all employees in violence detection and prevention.

Warning Signs

In addition to establishing a policy regarding violence, you should train your managers to recognize warning signs so you can intervene and prevent an explosive situation. Here are some tips to help you proceed with caution.

Common Traits

 Potentially violent individuals may display an obsessive need to be in control and have difficulty accepting that they may be wrong. They also feel singled out for unfair treatment and show self-destructive or suicidal tendencies.


 High-risk individuals may act withdrawn, jealous, paranoid, resent authority, or be unusually concerned about their privacy.

Extreme Views

 Potential assailants may embrace conspiracy theories, approve of acts of violence, or display extreme political or religious convictions.


 Signs of instability can include withdrawal, long-term depression, sudden changes in personality, excess self-criticism or displays of hopelessness.

Sudden Shifts

 Be alert when an individual suddenly starts showing anxiety-related signs such as rapid breathing, erratic speech, shaking, a detachment or lack of concentration. Violent workers often react to events that strip them of their dignity, such as a reprimand or termination. Supervisors should be trained to deal with employees to preserve their self-respect. For example, keep disciplinary actions private and avoid taking a confrontational stance. Keep the emotional temperature low.

By carefully monitoring workplace interactions, you can fulfill your legal obligation to provide a safe work environment. And it helps you avert lawsuits that can cost enormous amounts of time and money, as well as damage your reputation as a concerned employer.