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Risk Insights: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating Workplace Violence

Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating Workplace Violence

Workplace violence threatens the health and safety of employees, clients and visitors. It affects all industries, regardless of size or location, and its occurrences can have significant financial and reputational effects.

This article presents information on workplace violence trends, impacts and prevention strategies. 

Workplace Violence Overview

OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at a worksite. Workplace violence can include threats, verbal abuse, physical assaults and homicide.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health notes there are four types of workplace violence:

Type I involves an individual with criminal intent who has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees. The individual typically commits a crime (e.g., shoplifting or trespassing) in conjunction with the violence.

Type II involves an individual (e.g., a client) who has a relationship with the business and engages in workplace violence at the business while or after receiving their services.

Type III involves worker-on-worker violence and includes instances when an employee attacks or threatens another employee.

Type IV involves an individual who has a personal relationship with a business’s employee but does not have a relationship with the business itself.

Workplace Violence Trends

Workplace violence is an unfortunate reality across the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 20,050 private industry workers experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence that required days away from work in 2020. Of those victims, 22% required 31 or more days away from work, and 22% required 3 to 5 days away from work.

The BLS also reported that 392 U.S. workers were the victim of workplace homicide in 2020. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that around 27% of all violent events in a workplace were connected to domestic violence.

Workplace violence is a serious issue that affects a significant number of employees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nearly 1 in 7 employees feel unsafe at work. Additionally, OSHA reports that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. 

OSHA has analyzed workplace violence data and identified certain groups who may be particularly vulnerable. These include workers who exchange money with the public, interact with individuals who are volatile, provide care or services, or serve as delivery drivers. Workers who work alone or in small groups, in isolated locations, during late night or early morning hours, where alcohol is served, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public may also be at a heightened risk. Furthermore, health care and social service workers, public service workers, customer service agents, letter carriers, community workers, law enforcement personnel, retail workers and taxi drivers are among the most vulnerable groups.

It is important to understand that workplace violence can occur in any setting and that no business is immune to it.

The Impact of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence has a significant impact on victims, co-workers, witnesses and victims’ families. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 32% of employees develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic disorders following a workplace violence incident. Additionally, up to 20% of employees develop depressive symptoms, and a majority of employees may experience sadness, fear, disgust and anger; they may be unable to maintain a safe and secure feeling at work. The department also noted that up to 50% of employees consider leaving their jobs following an incident of workplace violence. 

For employers, workplace violence results in lost productivity, increased insurance costs, reputational damage, legal liability, operational downtime and regulatory penalties. OSHA found that 18,000 weekly workplace assaults resulted in 1,751,000 lost workdays annually, costing $55 million in wages. Employers’ direct costs of workplace violence range from $3 billion to $5 billion, while indirect costs range between $6.4 billion and $36 billion. SHRM reported that the aftermath of workplace violence can lead to a decrease in productivity by up to 50% and employee turnover of 20%-40%. The average out-of-court settlement for a workplace violence-related lawsuit is around $500,000.

Strategies to Prevent and Reduce Workplace Violence and Minimize Liability

To effectively prevent and reduce workplace violence and mitigate liabilities, businesses should implement a comprehensive violence prevention program. Management commitment and employee participation are essential for its success. Aspects of the program should include:

  • Rigorous applicant screening—Thoroughly screening job applicants, ensuring compliance with all relevant employment laws
  • Continuous education—Ongoing training on violence prevention policies and safety protocols
  • Comprehensive training—Regular training on recognizing, avoiding, and de-escalating potentially violent situations
  • Hazard assessments—Regularly scheduled assessments to identify potential hazards
  • Incident reporting and recordkeeping procedures—Clear procedures for reporting incidents and maintaining records
  • Zero-tolerance policy—An unequivocal policy against violence, bullying and harassment
  • Weapons policy—A policy prohibiting weapons to the extent allowed by law
  • Incident investigation—A requirement to investigate all reported incidents 
  • Emergency response—Procedures for responding to emergencies, including handling active shooter threats, providing prompt medical treatment and counseling services, and reporting incidents to local authorities
  • Post-incident support—Implementing best practices for supporting staff after an incident

Employers have a legal and ethical obligation to prevent workplace violence. They should recognize warning signs and take appropriate corrective actions. Warning signs include excessive alcohol or drug use, behavior changes, absenteeism, depression and mood swings.

Technology can play an essential role in preventing, reducing, mitigating and reacting to workplace violence. There are numerous tools available that can be utilized for this purpose, including weapons detection systems, panic buttons and alarm systems, security cameras, access control and emergency lockdown systems, audio/video analytics, virtual reality training, digital floor planning, and artificial intelligence to identify suspicious behavior and perform other case management functions.


Understanding, preventing and reducing workplace violence is essential for businesses. Not only can a comprehensive safety plan improve the safety of a work environment, but it can also protect a company’s finances and reputation and mitigate its liabilities. 

This Risk Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2023 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.


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