Kinds of Violence at Work

Violence at work can manifest in a very wide variety of different forms.

It can occur in the form of physical assaults, verbal abuse, threats and intimidation.

It can also be just a look or one wrong touch.

Common kinds of workplace violence

Listed below are some examples of common kinds of workplace violence. (The list is by no means definitive.)

– Name calling, and verbal abuse

– Staring at a person in a menacing manner

– Shouting at a person in an intimidating way

– Verbally threatening to injure / kill a person – or their friends, family, or colleagues

– Threatening to infect a person with an infectious disease (e.g. Aids, Hepatitis, Meningitis)

– Gestures to the effect that harm is intended towards a person

– Physically jostling/ pushing, pinching, scratching, gouging, punching, or kicking a person

– Hair pulling

– Spitting

– An attack with a weapon (e.g. a knife, metal bar, chairs, fire extinguishers, samurai swords)

– Setting a dog on a person / threatening to

– Giving an employee a different job that doesn’t suit their skills, then calling them incompetent and threatening to sack them if they don’t pull their socks up

– Threatening an employee with a transfer to a position where they would be worse off (or, with the “bullet”) if they don’t achieve targets – when the employee has no realistic chance of achieving them

– Insisting that an employee complies with a demand to do something which is against the regulations and not in other peoples interests. (E.g. You never saw that OK)

– Threatening to get rid of an employee if they officially voice a complaint

– Graffitti about the victim – and failure to remove it promptly

– Comments made to a person (or to others about the person) with sexual overtones

– Subjecting the person to ‘unwanted touching’

– Pressuring the person to ‘go out on a date’

– Exhibiting sexual organs / material

– Soliciting sex in return for hiring or promotion

– Sexual/ indecent assault

Bullying is the most prevalent kind of workplace violence

Assaults on staff by members of the public may be a significant risk in certain occupations (Security Guards, Nurses, Social/ Care Workers, Ambulance Service Employees, Public Tansport Officials, Traffic Wardens and Taxi drivers are more likely to be attacked). But, most work related ‘violence’ takes the form of non physical, but psychologically damaging bullying – and the threat of incidents happening exists in every single workplace!

For more information on Bullying: Click Here

Some kinds of workplace violence are more easily identifiable

An armed robbery, or a direct attack on a member of staff by a member of the public will be immediately obvious as an act of violence. However, ‘workplace violence’ can also consist of a series of actions that on their own may seem innocuous, relatively minor and on their own fairly trivial but which cumulatively can build to cause serious harm to the victims.

For Example:


“Mobbing” is a ganging up by colleagues – including subordinates and / or superiors – against an individual (or in some cases a minority group), and through threats and intimidation and/or, spreading rumors/ insinuations, they collectively isolate, criticise, harass, humiliate and hound the person into leaving the job. It is a really serious form of harassment that can destroy the victims mental and physical health. It has been estimated, for example, that the effects contribute in a significant way to about 10-15% of suicides in Sweden each year (and there is no reason to think things are any different in the UK).

Employers need to be aware of and able to detect the problem, and staff need to be sensitised to:

1. The potential for “mobbing” to occur

2. The absolute need to avoid taking part

3. The urgency of alerting management if they become aware of it happening.

Sexual Harrassment

Sexual harassment may take the form of a series of instances of unwelcome touching/ stroking, sexually suggestive or explicit remarks, innuendoes with a sexual connotation, staring at parts of a person’s body, references to sexual orientation, remarks about a person’s clothing, their body shape or hair colour etc.

Several national surveys have found that anything between 40% and over 90% of women who work have suffered some form of sexual harassment during the course of their working lives.

But, it’s not only women who are victimised. Male doctors, for example, and particularly those who have a good ‘bedside manner’ are more at risk of being sexually harrassed by patients than women GPs.


Stalking is a term used to describe the behaviour of those who become infatuated with a particular individual, focus their attention on them and then obsessively follow, pursue, harass, intimidate and threaten them.

Examples are:

  • Following a person
  • Contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means.
  • Publishing any statement or other material – relating or purporting to relate to a person; or purporting to originate from a person.
  • Monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication.
  • Loitering in any place (whether public or private).
  • Interfering with any property in the possession of a person.
  • Watching or spying on a person.

Stalking is a serious problem that affects lots of people from all walks of life (not just famous people) and it’s much more widespread than you’d think.

Results of research conducted by Lorraine Sheridan of Leicester University’s psychology department in 1987/8 indicated that:

  • One in five women has been the victim of a stalker
  • Two-thirds of victims suffered serious and prolonged intimidation

To download House of Commons Briefing paper 06261 (9 June 2017) on Stalking: Criminal Offences: Click Here

Get advice from the UK’s leading authority on stalking cases: Hamish Brown MBE

Some kinds of violence at work can be correlated to what happens in the workplace

The processes and functions of a workplaces can by their nature put employees at increased risk of abuse, threats, intimidation and serious injury from non employees.

For example:

  • An orchestrated campaign of threats, violence and intimidation against staff and the organisation conducted by extremists (e.g. Animal Liberation Front, anti abortion activists, et alia.)
  • Armed Robbery of cash/ bullion deposits and outlets handling / dispensing money or valuables – including medications and drugs (e.g. safety deposits, banks, building societies and post office staff, public transport fare collectors, shop assistants, GPs, chemists).
  • Employees providing care, advice and education (nurses, ambulance staff, social workers, teachers);
  • Officials who carry out inspection or enforcement duties (police, security guards, traffic wardens, ticket inspectors);
  • People working with mentally disturbed, or intoxicated, drugged or emotional people (mental health workers, bar staff, NHS security guards, prison officers)
  • Grudge motivated attacks by ex employees

The downturn in the global economy has hit many UK firms hard and a by product has been that more and more employees have had to be laid off work. Not all of the terminations have been handled as well as they might have been and, as a consequence, instances of ex-employees returning to workplaces to cause malicious damage, and/ or physical injury to other employees have been escalating. (Being unprepared facilitates mayhem!)

Some kinds of violence at work occur for reasons that are unconnected with the workplace

For example:

  • A deranged, delusional, armed individual entering a workplace and randomly attacking anyone and everyone they meet there.
  • A spillover of domestic violence (e.g. an employee’s ex or current partner turning up at the workplace and causing trouble.)

Spillover effects of domestic violence on employee performance at work

Domestic violence in the UK has reached shocking levels, with a rape, beating or stabbing inflicted in a home every six seconds. Without a doubt, the ‘spillover’ effects are having an impact on workplace safety and performance.

According to a study in the USA in 2000 funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, 64% of battered women arrive at work an hour late five times a month and 24 to 34 percent of them lose their jobs. (There is no reason to think the problems will be very different in the U.K. )

The same study also indicated that 75% of domestic-violence victims are harassed at work by their abuser.

Incidents in the UK of people turning up at their partner’s place of work and causing trouble are on the increase too.

More info

The cost to employers of domestic violence in the UK

Domestic violence is costing the UK £23bn a year, according to government commissioned research by Professor Sylvia Walby, Professor of sociology at the University of Leeds (released 1st September 2004).

The government funded research also assesses that domestic violence costs:

  • The Criminal Justice System around a £1 billion a year, nearly a quarter of its budget for violent crime
  • The NHS around £1.2 billion a year
  • Social services an estimated £250 million a year
  • Local housing authorities and housing associations £160 million a year
  • Civil legal services over £300 million

While there may be little, if anything, a company can do to prevent the abuse at home, enhancing the level of security employees get at work offers them valuable respite. Work can also be the place where they get – or get guided to – the help they need to resolve their problems.

To be aware of the risks so that suitable steps can be taken to reduce them depends on employees feeling comfortable about reporting their personal problems to their employer.

Would you feel comfortable telling your boss that not only were you having grief at home, but also that it was affecting your ability to think straight, listen to (or care) what anyone is saying to you and that you can’t concentrate long enough to even read a newspaper article all the way through – let alone the whole paper – before your thoughts drift back to the problems in your homelife?

Would the people who work for you feel comfortable reporting to you?

If you have answered “No” to either of the questions above your safety arrangements contain a flaw that could easily result in a serious – foreseeable – and preventable accident happening. Why let it remain?

Categories of Violence at Work

For Risk Assessment and Incident Reporting purposes it can be helpful to separate ‘Violence at Work’ into three separate categories:

Type 1. Violence committed by a person with no legitimate relationship to the workplace (e.g. a robber, burglar).

Type 2. Violence committed by a client, patient, customer or similar type of person receiving services from the business.

Type 3. Violence committed by someone who has some employment-related involvement with the workplace, (e.g. delivery people, employees, an employee’s spouse/ partner etc.)