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Violence and Harassment in the Workplace

What is workplace violence and harassment?

The original article can be found at Violence and Harassment in the Workplace : OSH Answers (

What is workplace violence and harassment?

Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence and harassment is a much broader problem. It can be defined as any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment.

While exact definitions vary in legislation, generally speaking workplace violence or harassment includes:

Some jurisdictions include harassment as a form of violence, while others define harassment separately. Harassment can be thought of as any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. These behaviours include words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.

Generally speaking, any action or behaviour – from rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson to murder – are all examples of workplace violence and/or harassment.

Also note that workplace violence or harassment is not limited to incidents that occur within a traditional workplace. Work-related incidents can occur at off-site business-related functions (conferences, trade shows), at social events related to work, in clients' homes, or away from work but resulting from work (a threatening telephone call to your home from a client).

NOTE: In this document, we use the term violence to also include bullying and harassment.

Please refer to the following OSH Answers documents for information:

When conducting a workplace assessment, what work-related factors increase the risk of violence?

Certain work factors, processes, and interactions can put people at increased risk from workplace violence. Examples include:

Risk of violence may be greater at certain times of the day, night or year. For example:

Risk of violence may increase depending on the geographic location of the workplace. For example:

In other situations, workplaces might be exposed to family (domestic) violence, such as a family member repeatedly phoning or e-mailing an employee which interferes with their work, or by showing up at the employee's workplace and disrupting co-workers (e.g., asking many questions about the employee's daily habits).

Which occupational groups tend to be most at risk from workplace violence?

Certain occupational groups tend to be more at risk from workplace violence. These occupations include:

How do I know if my workplace is at risk?

Conduct a workplace assessment to determine which hazards are present and the risk they represent. When conducting this assessment:

1. Conduct an inspection of the workplace. Focus on the work being done, the workplace design and layout, and your administrative and work practices.

2. Review any incidents of violence in your own workplace.

3. Evaluate the history of violence in similar places of employment.

Contact legislative authorities to determine what specific legislation regarding workplace violence prevention applies to your workplace.

Organize and review the information you have collected. Look for trends and identify the occupations and locations that you believe are most at risk. Record the results of your assessment. Use this document to develop a prevention program with specific recommendations for reducing the risk of violence within your workplace.

What can be done to prevent violence in the workplace?

The most important component of any prevention program is management commitment. Management commitment is best communicated in a written policy. The policy should:

What are some advantages of having a written policy about workplace violence, harassment and other unacceptable behaviour?

A written policy will inform employees about:

It will also encourage employees to report such incidents and will show that management is committed to dealing with incidents involving violence, harassment and other unacceptable behaviour.

What are some examples of preventive measures?

Preventive measures generally fall into three categories, workplace design, administrative practices and work practices.

Workplace design considers factors such as workplace lay-out, use of signs, locks or physical barriers, lighting, and electronic surveillance. Building security is one instance where workplace design issues are very important. For example, you should consider:

Administrative practices are decisions you make about how you do business. For example, certain administrative practices can reduce the risks involved in handling cash. You should consider:

Administrative practices may also include education and training for employees. This education and training would include not only information about the workplace's policy and process to respond to incidents, but may also include:

Work practices include all the things you do while you are doing the job. They may include management functions such as making sure the performance evaluation process is fair and transparent, or “checking in” with employees to determine their workload or stress level.

People, who work away from a traditional office setting, for example those working from home, salepeople, real estate agents or home care providers, can adopt many different work practices that will reduce their risk. For example,