Dealing with aggression in the workplace


Certain situations can arise at work that lead to employees becoming aggressive. If that does happen—and it’s usually rare—what should your business do?

In this guide, we explain what you can do to control the issue and establish policies that lay out the conduct you expect from your staff members.

Remember that if you have an urgent issue to deal with, you can refer to our 24/7 employment law services to quickly sort out any disturbances. 

You can also refer to our health & safety services for advice about minimising risk.

What are the causes of workplace aggression?

There isn’t one direct issue to blame as there are many reasons why it can happen. But the underlying issue is typically employees getting angry due to a perceived issue, or customers becoming upset.

The path to such behaviour can include reasons such as:

  • Poor pre-employment screening: If you’re not conducting a thorough job candidate background check, you can run the risk of hiring an individual with a violent history.
  • Stress: This may be due to overwork, poor working facilities, a dangerous working environment, or difficult colleagues and customers. Over time, stress can lead to burnout—fatigue can cause individuals to lose their cool, no matter how calm their temperament might typically be.
  • Lack of an EAP: An employee assistance program can help your workforce at times of stress or poor mental health. If you have a procedure in place, they can refer to it for assistance.
  • Upset customers: Although this is rare, as a B2B or B2C small company you may still have an angry client to deal with. It’s a very rare occurrence, but not unheard of.

If you recognise the potential for workplace aggression and violence, then you can take steps to stop it from happening.

Your legal requirements

There’s legislation governing workplace aggression. These are:

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
  • The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences 2013 (RIDDOR).
  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health & Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.

Under health & safety legislation, your business must control risks for your employees. This includes the possibility of physical aggression.

As a result, you should look to take reasonable steps to ensure your workforce doesn’t have to face the likes of physical assault.

If a situation does develop where an employee has to defend themselves, this is “reasonable force”. Self-defence is governed under civil law and the Crown Prosecution Service states a person may:

“Use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purposes of self-defence.”

If this is a situation that’s developed in your business, then whether they did use reasonable force will depend on the prosecutors following a police investigation.

You should also take verbal abuse seriously, as this can escalate quickly. They tend to be the most common types of incident as well. So you should have clear policies on what you don’t tolerate across your business.

From your perspective, can an employer take an employee to tribunal for aggression? No, you can’t do this. You can, however, follow your disciplinary procedure.

How to stop aggressive behaviour in the workplace

In your company handbook you can lay out the policies you have regarding this matter, swhich will explain the behaviour you expect from employees at work.

You can take steps to limit such issues. These can include:

  • Intolerance towards interruptions: Allow your employees to speak freely and wait for each other to finish. This encourages a patient and understanding workplace atmosphere, rather than a tense one.
  • Have a policy of openness: Encourage employees to come forward to report any aggressive behaviour—physical or verbal. You can then look to stamp this out as quickly as possible, showing that it’s not tolerated in your working environment.
  • Stop passive-aggressive behaviour: As with above, look to stop any subtle acts of aggression that can undermine employees over long periods of time.

Other steps you can take to ensuring there isn’t aggressive behaviour is to have CCTV cameras to act as a deterrent for physical aggression. But it can also determine

Examples of aggressive behaviour in the workplace

It can manifest in different forms, physically or verbally. Below we cover a range to display how varied this topic is and how vigilant your business should be in preventing it.

  • Insulting a colleague.
  • Shouting at co-workers.
  • Aggressive physical contact.
  • Angry outbursts, such as swearing.
  • Any acts of sexual harassment.
  • Deliberately damaging company property.

Aggressive communication in the workplace is another example. This is a person who has no respect for their colleagues. Typical behaviour will include interrupting colleagues or ignoring them.

Aggressive body language in the workplace is also worth considering as it can be passive-aggressive behaviour. It can come across as insubordinate behaviour and make other employees tense.

Need help on this?

Aggressive behaviour at work can be a complicated and stressful topic to deal with. We can guide you through any of your concerns. Call us for immediate assistance: 0800 028 2420.

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