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, unlawful discrimination, 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 Transport 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 and Harassment: 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 and it has been estimated that the effects contribute in a significant way to about 10-15% of suicides each year.

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, innuendos 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.

Common signs include:

  • EXCESSIVE CONTACT – this can be via text messages, calls, social media comments.
  • KNOWING YOUR DETAILS – a stalker may go out of their way to find out your address, email, phone number etc.
  • MONITORING – they may be monitoring where and when you go, and who with.
  • ORCHESTRATING EVENTS – You may have a flat tyre, lost keys, etc., when the stalker just happens to be passing by to “save the day”
  • UNWANTED GIFTS – they hope to get a positive response by presenting you with unwanted or inappropriate gifts.

In some cases, once they realise their interest isn’t reciprocated, stalker’s will make malicious allegations against their victim.

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.

Domestic Violence Spillover

Domestic violence is abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats that influence another person. This includes any behaviour that intimidates, manipulates, humiliates, isolates, frightens, terrorises, coerces, threatens, blames, hurts, injures, or wounds someone.

Domestic violence is a pervasive issue that extends across cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic groups and it can have serious consequences for a workplace.

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. This is because a workplace can serve as a location where a perpetrator can readily access or locate an intended victim.

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

Being unprepared facilitates mayhem.

While there may be little, if anything, an employer organisation can do to prevent the abuse happening at home, enhancing the level of security employees get at work offers the victims 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 being encouraged to report personal problems to their employer.