Violence in the Workplace

  • Employee Conduct
Violence in the Workplace
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll look at what violence in the workplace is, what the law covers, and how to protect employees on your work-site.

Workplace violence can happen when you least expect it. These incidents don't solely affect the victim - they can also impact other employees, customers, and your business on a whole.

Every employer has a legal duty to violent incidents in the workplace. This means utilising a solid disciplinary procedure and informing legal authorities if needed.

If you don't deal with workplace violence properly, you could face serious consequences. Like, injuring employees, paying compensation, and facing reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll look at what violence in the workplace is, what the law covers, and how to protect employees on your work-site.

What is violence in the workplace?

Violence in the workplace is when a person faces abuse, threats, intimidation, or assault for circumstances relating to their work. It's also referred to as 'occupational violence'.

Violent situations put a person or group's personal safety at risk. They include acts like physical assaults, verbal abuse, and written threats - in person or online.

Workplace violence can also occur as a singular incident, like being physically assaulted in a fight. Or it can happen over multiple events, like threatening phone-calls. In some cases, these incidents may need to be reported to the police.

What counts as a violent incident?

A violent act can include all kinds of actions. The victim may feel humiliated, scared, threatened, or harmed. Violence can include words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, and other inappropriate behaviour.

Let's take a look at four areas that account to a violent incident:

Threatening behaviour

This can include throwing or breaking property whether or not it physically harmed someone. It can also include invading a person's personal space, like getting close to their face.

Verbal or written threats

This can include expressing an intention to harm or injure a person. This can be done through words or written means; like a letter, email, or online comment. Threats still count whether the action was carried out or not.

Verbal abuse

This can include swearing or using condescending language. Verbal abuse can also include making statements against a person's protected characteristic (like their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation).

Physical attacks

Other threatening disruptive behaviour includes a person being touched or harmed - without their consent. It can also include secondary factors; like using weapons, pulling garments, and throwing objects or liquids.

Which jobs have a higher risk of workplace violence?

There are certain employment or occupational groups that have higher risk factors when it comes to workplace violence. These include:

  • Health-care workers: Like, a pharmacist or health-care staff who handle prescribed drugs.
  • Emergency services: Like, the police or ambulance services during everyday work.
  • Security jobs: Like, a security guard working at a nightclub or pub.
  • Education or welfare providers: Like, a teacher dealing with violent children.
  • Customer service providers: Like, a sales assistant working in busier stores.
  • Lone workers: Like, a receptionist managing GP waiting rooms alone.

Lone workers are also at a greater risk of work-related violence. That's because they often work alone, during unsociable hours, or without direct supervision. Home workers are also at greater risk to their personal safety. This could relate to cases of domestic violence from a personal relationship.

What is the law on work-related violence?

There isn't a specific law that defines work-related violence. However, there are distinguished areas of legislation that relate to it. And as mentioned, all employers have a legal duty of care to prevent workplace violence.

Let's look at laws that cover violence in the workplace:

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA)

HSWA states employers have a legal duty to protect every employee under their care. This duty requires you to take reasonable measures that assure their health and safety during work. For example, using risk assessments to identify hazards that employees could face whilst working in public areas.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR)

MHSWR outlines legal obligations on managing workplace hazards. This includes minimising risks that could lead to workplace violence. For example, locking away work equipment that can be used as a weapon.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)

RIDDOR is safety legislation that states employers are required to report certain workplace incidents. These include violent acts that result in death, specific injuries, or incapacity (for seven or more days). You may need to provide specific or sufficient evidence to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or police.

The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996

These safety laws involve informing employees (within reason) about any risks relating to their health and wellbeing. For example, if an employee was assaulted whilst travelling through a certain community, employers should inform others to remain diligent.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

This is legislation specific to gross negligence manslaughter, homicide, or incidents leading to death. You have a legal duty to report these cases to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Employers, or the business itself, may cause serious breach to your duty of care - through factors like gross negligence and management failures.

The Equality Act 2010

This act outlines employee rights on equal opportunities. This includes being protected against unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation. These can come in the form of verbal abuse, written threats, and physical attacks.

How to manage an incident of violence at work

Incidents of violence at work can happen at any time - for any reason. Despite that, you must know how to manage them properly. Employers should know how to deal with the situation, as well as minimise the chance of it happening again.

There are three steps employers need to take when managing an incident of violence at work:

  • Disciplinary action: If an employee has been violent at work, you need to deal with it via the right disciplinary action. This should be in accordance with your disciplinary process. Such action may even include dismissal if suitable.
  • Review procedures: To ensure these incidents don't happen again, you need to review your work procedures. This could be conducting a risk assessment or even just talking to workers. You may need to report significant findings to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • Legal authorities: If the incident accounts to an illegal act, you may be obliged to report it to the police. This is regardless of what disciplinary measures you may have already taken.

How to prevent violence in the workplace

All employers must be aware of what the right procedures are when it comes to workplace violence. This includes having the right prevention methods in place, as well as protecting employee health, safety, and wellbeing.

With the right steps, you'll be able to identify and deal with any incidents that could build up to such incidents. Let's take a look at how to prevent workplace violence:

Create an anti-violence policy

The first step employers should take is creating an anti-violence policy. The policy should highlight your obligation to prevent the risks and hazards that could lead to potential violent incidents at work.

Your anti-workplace violence policy should include:

  • What constitutes a violent incident.
  • Who do you report incidents to (like managers, employee representatives, or the police).
  • How your business holds zero-tolerance for violent behaviour (including verbal, written, or physical assault).
  • What the consequences are for such actions (like warnings or summary dismissal).
  • How your business aims to safeguard employees from violent behaviour in the future.

Introduce safety equipment into the work environment

The next step involves introducing safety equipment into your work environment. This should cover public spaces; like communal areas and even spaces outside your premises.

Common safety equipment include things like:

  • CCTV cameras and screens.
  • Walkie-talkies.
  • Panic alarms.
  • Security teams.

For businesses with an increased risk of violence, you can use keypad entrances or intercom systems. This will alert any security teams who are hired to deal with such situations.

Carry out a workplace violence risk assessment

Employers must carry out risk assessments which help manage workplace health, safety, and wellbeing. This includes a risk assessment that specifically deals with workplace violence.

Risk assessments identify areas that may lead to an increased chance of verbal or physical violence. They can also help you apply appropriate steps towards eliminating these issues.

Some businesses will require heavier workplace violence prevention methods, like in prisons or secured facilities. These types of risk assessments should be tailored to practices and customs relevant to the workplace.

Provide a workplace violence prevention program and training

Employers should provide a workplace violence prevention program as part of staff training.

Prevention programs will introduce training on areas like equal opportunities or conduct and behaviour. Employees will be able to acknowledge what constitutes work-related violence, what their statutory rights are, and how to protect themselves against it.

Examples of workplace violence prevention training can include; defusing violent situations; reading body languages; or spotting early signs of aggression.

Identify all types of violent people

It's important to highlight that anyone can be - or become - a violent person. Some need a motive, whilst others need no logical reasons at all.

Employees should be aware that anyone they come into contact with during work could be a potential threat. This includes colleagues, clients, customers, or the general public. What matters is that they know how to avoid being harmed when facing such people.

Workers could even suffer whilst in a personal relationship. For example, violent behaviour from a spouse or family member. Whilst these people have no correlation to your business, it's still important to provide employees with the right support and help them seek advice on domestic violence.

Support their physical and mental health

If an employee is the victim of physical violence, they may need time off to recover. Sick leave could last for one day, or it could be for a lot longer. Employers should ideally provide reasonable adjustments to support any physical or mental health issues.

Once they're feeling better, make sure they're well enough before they return to work. If an employee continues to remain absent, then the employer may be able to proceed with a medical capability process. This could result in medical capability dismissal.

Can sexual harassment count as physical violence?

Yes, sexual harassment can count to an act of physical violence. This sort of behaviour can take many forms - through sexual coercion, unwanted attention, and physical harassment.

If an employee raised a complaint of verbal or physical sexual harassment, you must deal with it through great sensitivity, seriousness, and care. This includes applying your disciplinary procedures; but you may also need to inform the police on such matters.

Does it count if violent incidents happen outside of the workplace?

Yes, if an employee committed or was involved in an act of violence outside of the workplace, you may still need to deal with it.

For example, if two employees get into a confrontation at a work Christmas party, you should deal with the incident through the proper disciplinary procedures. If you fail to manage such incidents properly, the costs could still affect both you and your business.

Seek advice on violence in the workplace with Peninsula

All employers must be practical when it comes to managing and preventing violence at work. If you don't manage violent risks or factors, it may affect your workers' wellbeing, performance, and output.

If you don't manage discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and bullying, you could end up facing serious consequences. Like compensation penalties and reputational damages.

Peninsula offers expert advice on preventing violence in the workplace. Our teams offer 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with a Health & Safety consultant today.


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