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Blog 31 August, 2021 Back

Workplace violence

Becky Malcolm

workplace violence

With organisations creating COVID-19 safe workplace environments to encourage employees back to the office, we look at another potentially overlooked risk factor – the recorded incidents of workplace violence are still increasing worldwide.

Over the last 12 months, despite many employees working remotely at home, the number of workers experiencing workplace bullying has increased, and those who have continued to work on-site during the pandemic have faced increasing levels of violence.

The pandemic has raised stress levels and lowered thresholds for confrontation. According to Bloomberg Law, public-facing employees have been screamed at, spat on, and assaulted for trying to enforce mask-wearing rules and, in November 2020, a Family Dollar security guard in the US was shot and killed for trying to enforce mask-wearing rules.

Violence at work is a global issue. In Canada, for example, 15% of all workers report a violent assault at work. In Europe, the UK, the Netherlands and Finland have high rates of assaults and sexual harassment and in India, 25% of workers report physical assault at work.

In the US, 1,000 killings take place in job settings every year. Homicide has become the leading cause of death at work for American women, and the second leading cause for men.

In 2020, a report revealed that one in seven people didn’t feel safe in their workplace and 30% of the people polled said they were unaware of their company’s safety plan.(1)

Worrying stats

  • More than 2 million U.S. employees experience workplace violence annually
  • Violence is the second leading cause of fatal injuries in the workplace and has been for the past 7 years
  • 85% of workplace homicides include firearms
  • 27% of all violent workplace events are connected to domestic violence
  • 42% of women experiencing some form of sexual harassment at work report it happened online
  • 90% of organisations do not comply with reporting regulations
  • Workplace violence costs businesses $250–$330 billion on average per year*

The common causes of workplace violence are mental health issues, accumulated personal stress, frustration, chronic use of drugs or alcohol and unhappiness with the job.

Workplace violence can be broken down into 4 basic types:

1. Criminal intent: the offender has no relationship with the organisation or its employees and is committing violence along with robbery, theft, or another criminal act;
2. Customer/client-on-worker violence: these cases are most likely to happen in the healthcare and service-providing industries;
3. Worker-on-worker: usually based on how high the offender is placed in the authority chain compared to their victim;
4. Personal relationship: most likely to happen as a part of the existing pattern of domestic violence.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health has been under-recognised and under-responded-to during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current situation of prolonged uncertainty can exacerbate existing mental health problems or bring previously undiagnosed mental health problems to light.

There are measures organisations can put in place to prevent workplace violence

Approximately 25% of businesses are unprepared for an active shooter incident, meaning the incident is frequently over before police respond and arrive at the scene.(2)

Employers need to understand the definition of violence at work and implement policies that protect employees from the “threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behaviour that occurs at the work site”.

Workplace violence is an ever-present issue, and statistics show that some occupations are more likely to face it. However, they also show no profession is immune to violence.

Any company with over 10 employees should develop an Emergency Prepardness Plan to cover any number of general emergencies, as well as emergencies specific to your business.


(1) Safe at Last - workplace violence statistics

(2) Safety Trends in Corporate Security

* Forbes

International Labour Organisation

TechJury – research into workplace violence statistics