How Businesses at Risk of Workplace Violence Can Protect Employees

  • Workplace Bullying & Harassment
How Businesses at Risk of Workplace Violence Can Protect Employees
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

Workplace violence is a serious concern in Canada, as it can have devastating consequences for both employees and employers. No one should be subject to harassment or violence of any kind in their workplace, whether it is from a customer, a manager, or a colleague.

Yet, according to the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence, 1 in 5 violent incidents occur in the workplace. These unfortunate incidents can have profound negative effects, such as harming workers’ health and safety, increasing absenteeism, and increasing costs for business owners.

As an employer, it is crucial that you ensure that you do everything you can to prevent your workplace from these unacceptable behaviours.

Workplace violence can cause physical, psychological, and emotional harm to employees, and can result in legal and financial consequences for employers. This guide will provide an overview of workplace violence and offer tips for preventing and addressing it in your business.

What constitutes workplace violence?

Workplace violence can take many forms, including physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, bullying, and psychological or emotional abuse. It can be perpetrated by co-workers, managers, customers, clients, or anyone else who has access to the workplace.

As well as occurring in the traditional workplace, these incidents, including physical assault, sexual assault, and robbery, can happen offsite at work functions such as conferences, training, tradeshows, social events, in clients’ homes or away from work.

Workplace violence can have serious consequences for employees, including injuries, trauma, and emotional distress. It can also have negative impacts on productivity, employee morale, and your business’s reputation.

What are the different types of workplace violence?

It’s important to recognize that workplace violence encompasses more than just physical assault. It also includes acts of harassment, which can take many forms. Workplace violence and harassment can be defined as any behaviour or action that results in an employee being abused, threatened, intimidated, or physically assaulted in the course of their employment.

To give a better understanding, some of the behaviours that can be considered as workplace violence or harassment include:

  • Threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, throwing objects, or damaging property
  • Verbal or written threats that express the intention to inflict harm
  • Verbal abuse including swearing, insults, or condescending language
  • Physical attacks such as hitting, shoving, pushing, or kicking
  • Harassment that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms, or verbally abuses a person

It is important to note that workplace violence can also be categorized based on the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. For example, domestic violence that spills over into the workplace can be classified as workplace violence, as can violence between coworkers, managers, and subordinates.

While definitions may vary between jurisdictions, it’s important to note that any behaviour—from rumours and pranks to physical assaults and even murder—can be considered as workplace violence or harassment.

How do I take steps to prevent workplace violence?

There are several steps you can take to prevent workplace violence in your small business:

Develop a workplace violence prevention policy and procedure

A workplace violence prevention policy and procedure outlines your business’s commitment to preventing violence and sets out the procedures for reporting and responding to incidents of violence or threats of violence.

Provide training for employees

Provide employees with training on how to recognize and respond to potentially violent situations, as well as on your workplace violence prevention policy.

Implement security measures

Implement security measures such as installing security cameras, implementing access control measures, and providing security personnel.

Create a respectful workplace culture

Create a workplace culture that is respectful, inclusive, and free from violence and harassment. Encourage employees to treat each other with respect and report any incidents of violence or harassment.

Respond promptly to incidents of violence or harassment

Respond promptly and effectively to any incidents of violence or harassment, and take appropriate action to prevent it from happening again.


How to report and address workplace violence

Workplace violence is a serious issue that can have significant consequences for both employees and employers. In Canada, employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which includes taking steps to prevent and address workplace violence and harassment. Here are some key strategies for preventing workplace violence and harassment in Canada:

Providing support to the victim

The first step in addressing workplace violence is to provide support to the victim. This may involve offering medical attention, counselling, or other forms of assistance as needed. It’s important to prioritize the victim’s needs and ensure that they receive appropriate care and support.

Documenting the incident

Another important step is to document the incident. This includes recording the date, time, and location of the incident, as well as any details or information that may be relevant. It’s also important to document any witnesses who may have seen or heard what happened.

Reporting the incident

Reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities is another crucial step. Depending on the severity of the incident and the jurisdiction in which your business is located, you may need to report the incident to the police or to your provincial or territorial occupational health and safety authority. Reporting the incident ensures that appropriate action can be taken and helps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Conduct a thorough investigation

After the incident has been reported, it’s important to conduct a thorough investigation. This may involve interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and reviewing any relevant documentation. The purpose of the investigation is to determine what happened and why, and to identify any underlying issues or factors that may have contributed to the incident.

Take appropriate action

Based on the results of the investigation, it’s important to take appropriate action. This may involve disciplining the perpetrator, implementing additional security measures, or making other changes to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. It’s important to take swift and decisive action to address workplace violence and ensure that everyone in your business feels safe and secure.

Are women more at risk of workplace violence?

Yes. A 2016 study by Statistics Canada found that approximately 3% of women reported having experienced physical violence in the workplace, versus about 1% of men.

Gender-based violence—defined as violence that is committed against someone based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender (Women and Gender Equality Canada 2018)—can have serious long-term physical, economic and emotional consequences for victims, their families, and for society more broadly.

Which industries have a high risk of workplace violence?

As a small business owner, it’s important to recognize the increased risk of workplace violence in certain industries. Bars and nightclubs, for instance, may face aggression from intoxicated patrons, while retail stores are susceptible to robbery and theft. Healthcare facilities are also at higher risk due to the nature of their work.

While workplace violence can occur in any industry, there are some industries that may be at a higher risk due to the nature of the work involved. These industries include:

Service industry

Workers in the service industry, such as food service, hospitality, and transportation, are also at risk of workplace violence. This can be due to interactions with the public, which can lead to incidents of verbal or physical abuse; working alone or in isolated locations, such as those who work in gas stations or convenience stores; and those who handle money, such as cashiers, may put themselves at risk of robbery or other forms of violence.


Retail workers may be at risk of workplace violence due to the potential for theft, as well as dealing with customers who may be unhappy or aggressive.


Teachers and school staff may be at risk of workplace violence due to incidents of bullyingharassment, or violence by students or parents.

Law enforcement and security

Police officers, security guards, and other law enforcement personnel are at a higher risk of workplace violence due to their role in maintaining public safety and dealing with potentially dangerous situations.


Healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, are at a higher risk of workplace violence due to factors such as high-stress levels, long working hours, and working with patients who may be agitated or confused.

Social services

Workers in social services, such as child welfare or mental health, may be at risk of workplace violence due to the nature of their work and the potential for volatile situations.

It’s important for employers in these industries, as well as others, to take steps to prevent and address workplace violence in order to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees.

What is included in a workplace violence program?

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your workplace is free from violence and harassment. One way to achieve this is by implementing a comprehensive Workplace Violence Program that outlines policies, procedures, and protocols for preventing and responding to incidents of violence in the workplace. A Workplace Violence Program typically includes several key components, such as:

Policy statement

This is a clear statement that outlines your organization’s commitment to preventing workplace violence and harassment. It should include definitions of workplace violence and harassment, as well as a statement of zero tolerance for any form of violence or harassment.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment helps to identify potential sources of violence and harassment in your workplace. It involves assessing the work environment, job tasks, and the behaviours of employees and customers to identify potential risk factors.

Prevention measures

Prevention measures may include measures such as security cameras, access control systems, employee training programs, and workplace policies and procedures that aim to prevent incidents of workplace violence and harassment.

Incident response procedures

These procedures outline what actions should be taken in the event of an incident of workplace violence. This may include reporting procedures, victim support, and notification of law enforcement agencies where appropriate.


Employees should receive training on how to recognize and prevent incidents of workplace violence, how to respond to an incident if it occurs, and how to access support and resources.


It’s important to ensure that your Workplace Violence Program is communicated effectively to all employees and that they understand their roles and responsibilities in preventing and responding to incidents of violence in the workplace.

Program review and evaluation: Regular review and evaluation of your Workplace Violence Program will help to ensure that it remains effective and relevant. This may involve assessing the program’s effectiveness, identifying areas for improvement, and making updates as necessary.

By implementing a comprehensive Workplace Violence Program, Canadian employers can help to create a safe and secure work environment for their employees.

Do you need help with violence and harassment policies?

Workplace violence and harassment is a serious concern for Canadian businesses and has no place in the workplace. As a business owner in Canada, it’s important to take workplace violence seriously and take steps to prevent it.

By developing a workplace violence prevention policy, providing training for employees, implementing security measures, creating a respectful workplace culture, and responding promptly to incidents of violence or harassment, you can create a safe and healthy work environment for your employees.

If you need assistance creating a policy that combats workplace harassment and bullying, contact Peninsula for help. We help employers comply with provincial legislation and advise them on how to apply this to their workplace. Contact us today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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