According to existing research, workplace homicide is considered the third highest work-related cause of death in the United States and is the leading cause of death for women at work. Even though we often focus on the most lethal incidents, the overwhelming majority of workplace violence does not rise to this level.
Workplace violence can take many forms, and it takes a tremendous toll on the workplace. This is due to increased absenteeism and turnover, high stress levels, and decreased productivity, increased Workers' Compensation claims, damaged morale, costs involved with post-incident counseling, and much more. Workplace violence, while sometimes unpredictable, often times can be prevented through early identification of warning signs. Agency protocols, environmental safeguards and increased communication can reduce risk. It is essential for managers and supervisors to be prepared to quickly respond to instances of threats, intimidation, and other disruptive behaviors.
The Incidence of Workplace Violence In Los Angeles County
The Security Operations Unit of Los Angeles
County Sheriff's Department reported:
7699 incidents of workplace violence during a five-year period (2015-2019)
58 homicides were workplace homicides, averaging 8 workplace homicides a year
Los Angeles County has a Zero Tolerance Policy (PPG620) for workplace violence.
The policy states that the County prohibits any workplace violence, threat, intimidation, or harassment against, or by, any of its employees. All acts of violence, regardless of type of violence, must be reported to the employee's manager and supervisor.
What is Workplace Violence?
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines workplace violence as the act or threat of violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault, directed toward people at work or on duty. This includes written threats, verbal threats, and threatening behavior, like throwing objects or even shaking fists at another person. Therefore, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. Workplace violence can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.
Acts of violence and other similar incidents are currently the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, of the 5,147 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2017, 458 were cases of intentional injury by another person. Workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide. Below we have defined the various forms of workplace violence in order to ensure a common understanding of terms.
Forms of Workplace Violence:
Workplace violence may take many forms, including but not limited to written threats by letter, fax, and electronic mail; text messages or online posts; or verbal threats delivered in person or by telephone. Other forms of workplace violence include intimidation, harassment (including sexual harassment) mugging, robbery or attempted robbery, as well as destruction of property. Extremely serious ones could be physical assault, bomb threats or mass/active shooter threats, rape and/or murder.
Physical or verbal attack on someone, which results in bodily or emotional injury, pain and/or distress. Assault may involve hitting, punching, poking, kicking and/or use of a weapon.
Any written or oral expression or gesture that could be interpreted by a reasonable person to convey an intent of physical harm to persons or property. There are several types of threats to be aware of:
Direct Threats - Straightforward and explicit statements of an intent to commit harm
Indirect Threats - Vague, unclear, and ambiguous statements whereby the plan, the intended victim, the motivation, and other aspects of the threat are masked or equivocal
Veiled Threats - Indirect, vague, or subtle statements suggesting potential harm. This includes statements such as “He won’t get away with this”, “I’ll get her or show her” or, "They'll see."
Conditional Threats - Statements intending harm and specifying either conditions or demands to be met in order to stop the harm or conditions under which the threat will be carried out.
Implausible Threats - Statements of intended harm that are unrealistic and impossible to carry out.
Intimidating or Harassing Behavior:
Threats or other conduct which can lead to hostile work environments, impede operations, and/or inhibits and frightens others.
Physical Intimidation or Harassment:
This may involve including blocking movement, holding, grabbing, following, touching or any other inappropriate physical contact.
Psychological Intimidation or Harassment:
This may involve making malicious, rude, derogatory, disrespectful, insubordinate, disparaging, false, obnoxious, or abusive statements with the intent to hurt the reputation of others.
Types of Workplace Violence:
Type I: Criminal Intent Violence - In this type of violence, acts are committed by individuals who do not have a legitimate relationship with the business or the employees and enter into the workplace with the intention of committing some sort of crime. The violence is typically incidental to another crime such as shoplifting, robbery, or trespassing.
Type II: Customer, Client or Patient Violence - This type of violence occurs in a workplace, in which the violence is committed by clients, customers, students, patients, or anyone else that is known to the workplace. A large portion of this type of violence occurs within the healthcare industry, in settings such as nursing home or psychiatric facilities, where the victims are often patient caregivers. Police officers, staff, firefighters, paramedics, flight attendants, and teachers are also at a higher risk for experiencing this kind of violence. Additionally, departments that provide services to the public, those who serve patients, those who work with people who are incarcerated, and those who work with people who are confined or under stress are also at an increased risk of Customer, Client or Patient Violence. This includes but is not limited to: Department of Public Social Services, Department of Children and Family Services, Child Support Services, Department of Health Services, Department of Public Health, Probation Office of the District Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, and the Office of the Alternative Public Defender. This type of violence accounts for a majority of nonfatal workplace violent incidents.
Type III: Worker on Worker Violence - This type of violence is typically committed by a current or past employee of the workplace who attacks or threatens another current or past employee. For example, this may be a disgruntled former employee who returns to their workplace to “seek revenge” for being disciplined or “told on” by another employee. These types of violent acts are more likely to happen after an employee is fired, or when hiring managers do not use due diligence throughout the hiring or promotion processes. Factors that contribute to Worker on Worker Violence may include understaffing, downsizing, frustration over poorly defined job rolls, poor management styles, and/or a high rate of grievances and disputes.
Type IV: Personal Relationship Violence - This type of violence is typically committed by individuals who do not have a relationship with the workplace but has a personal relationship with one of the employees. Personal Relationship Violence is perhaps the most difficult kind of violence to prevent because it involves an individual who is an employee at the workplace, and another who does not. It is also challenging to prevent because the public may be able to access the work environment easily during normal business hours. Additionally, employees who experience this type of violence may sometimes be unable to transfer to other work locations in a timely manner, if different units and sections of the department are in one location. Compared to men, women are at a higher risk of experiencing this type of violence.
Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence: Most incidents of domestic/intimate partner violence are perpetrated by individuals outside the workplace, unless those experiencing and perpetrating the violence are coworkers. Individuals experiencing domestic/intimate partner violence often conceal the abuse, due to the shame and stigma associated with this type of violence, as well as fear of losing their job. There are early warning signs which will be discussed later that can help identify this type of violence and help prevent it from entering the workplace.
Type V: Ideological Violence -This type of violence occurs when a workplace or organization represents an ideology that opposes that of an extremist or value-driven individual or group and becomes a target for violence. It is rare and is a subset of terrorism. At times, governmental entities or workplaces may be targeted if the perpetrator’s desired result is mass destruction. Many of the recent active shooter and terrorist incidents across the globe fall under this category of violence.
Impact of Workplace Violence
Psychological and Emotional Impact
Studies have shown that as many as 32% of employees will develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic disorders after an incident.
As many as 50% of employees consider leaving their job after an incident of workplace violence. Employees may also have increasing distrust for their employer’s willingness or ability to protect their safety.
Significant increases in organizational costs are associated with increased security, interruption of business operations, loss of productivity, turnover, workers compensation claims, and litigation.
As many as 20% of employees will develop depressive symptoms. A majority of employees may also experience sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. They may be unable to maintain a feeling of safety and security at work.
Negative impact of the care due to distrust and fear towards customers, especially in healthcare fields.
Intimate Partner Violence and Workplace Violence Prevention
It is estimated that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men in the USA have experienced some form of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is an umbrella term that includes domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking. Broadly, IPV is any violence that occurs in a relationship between acquaintances or intimate partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines intimate partner violence as "the abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship." The essence of IPV is power and control. For that reason, IPV is more than physical violence. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, cyber, stalking, or financial violence by a current or former partner or spouse. While the connections between workplace violence and sexual or domestic violence still need more study, IPV can and does show up in the workplace. IPV affects the workplace when:
An employee is experiencing IPV
A current or former abuser is an employee
A current or former abuser is not an employee but shows up at the workplace
Sexual violence occurs while employees are on duty
Sexual harassment occurs in the workplace
Warning Signs of IPV
Inability to concentrate and/or sudden drop in work performance
Sudden behavior change
Increase in personal calls or visits
Appearing agitated, angry, sad, or hypervigilant
Decrease in participation (in meetings and/or other office activities)
Physical signs of injury or chronic illnesses
Sexual Violence and the Workplace
80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. This is commonly referred to as "acquaintance rape." Thus, it should come as no surprise that the place where most Americans spend one third of their life - the workplace, can be a site where sexual violence occurs. While working or on duty, American employees experienced 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults from 1993 to 1999 (Duhart, 2001). Between 2005 and 2009, rape/sexual assaults accounted for 2.3% of all nonfatal violence in the workplace (Harnell,2011). Ensuring that the workplace has protocols and victim support systems available to address sexual violence is integral to addressing workplace violence.
Intimate Partner Violence Myths and Realities
Myth: Intimate Partner Violence is a private matter.
Reality: IPV impacts everyone. All violence is connected: what happens in private spaces behind closed doors can spill out into the streets and public space. For example, it is estimated that 57% of unhoused women lose their home due to domestic violence, 53% of the mass shootings are domestic-violence related, and that domestic violence accounts for 27% of violent events in the workplace. Additionally, intimate partner violence can also normalize violence for children brought up in an abusive home and have a detrimental impact on their socio-emotional and physical well-being. Thus, we should all know how to look out for warning signs and support victims to protect their safety, the safety of the workplace, and the safety of the community as a whole.
Myth: They are lying because if it was really that bad, they would leave.
Reality: There are many barriers that can prevent someone who is being abused from leaving. Very often the constant undermining of the survivor’s self-belief and self-esteem can leave them with very little confidence, socially isolated, and without the normal decision-making abilities. Even when the victim does prevail over the emotional, social, financial, and/or spiritual obstacles, leaving or trying to leave is the most dangerous time for the victim and can trigger an escalation in the violence or abuse that can sometimes turn fatal: “75% of domestic violence related homicides occur upon separation and there is a 75% increase of violence upon separation for at least two years.” Leaving threatens the established power and control that the abuser has over their partner. The fear of losing their power and control will make the abuser do anything they can to keep the survivor in their control, rather than let them go.
Myth: Only women can be victims of Intimate Partner Violence.
Reality: Anyone can experience Intimate Partner Violence, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, sex, race, class, or age. IPV is about one person having power and control within a relationship and thus can occur within any relationship where one partner believes they have the right to control the other. Abuse can occur if the victim and abuser are married, living together or separate, if they have been together for a few weeks or many years.
Responding to Intimate Partner Violence
Having a policy related to intimate partner violence on the books, recognizing the signs of trauma, and intervening at the early stages, even if the violence was not committed at the workplace itself, can both prevent the violence from escalating outside the office and prevent any future incidents at the office.
In the event the perpetrator shows up at work with the intent of harming the employee and any others who happen to be in the way or involved, follow the procedures described in Level Three in responding to the immediate crisis.
If it is known that an employee is being affected by domestic violence, whether or not the perpetrator has shown up at work, it is important to provide support and assistance. Not only is the person at risk for more and usually escalated violence, but it has an impact on the safety and productivity of the entire work force. Below are some tips for supervisors when helping an employee affected by domestic violence.
Talk with the employee about your concern of the possibility of the violence extending into the workplace and Recommend that the employee contact the Employee Assistance Program or the Department's resource and referral service, WorkLife4You (formerly LifeCare), for assistance in dealing with the problem.
Recommend that the employee call the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.978.3600 for more information about domestic violence or to help find local resources.
Contact the Employee Assistance Program for more information and/or assistance, if needed.
Recommend that a workplace safety plan be developed in case an incident occurs at the workplace. Act in accordance with the DV workplace Policy (Policy Number 622). Think about the safety of the individual as well as everyone around her/him. Don't be a hero if the perpertraor shows up at work. Follow the safety plan and for help.
National Statistics on Workplace Violence
NIOSH reported that intimate partner violence accounted for 142 homicides among women during 2003 to 2008 which represents 22% of the 648 homicides in the workplace during this six-year span.
Warning Signs and Stages of Violence
Unusual behavior of employee who becomes withdrawn and quiet
Argumentative or erratic behavior towards coworkers and other employees
Intense or profound interest in weapons and explosives
Persistent, unsolicited, romantic interest in another employee
A drastic change in hygiene or appearance
Comments about violence in dealing with a situation
Early Warning Danger Signals • State of Distress • Potential Danger
Individuals displaying Stage 1 behavior may be overlooked or dismissed by their coworkers and supervisors. Common characteristics of Stage 1 are:
Expressing mental state of distress and overwhelmed and helpless feelings
Indicating that there is no positive resolution to problems
Demonstrating angry behavior and sometimes confronting and challenging others
Displaying a pattern of behavior or languages which results in emotional distress from others in the workplace
Stage 1 indicators are:
Often subtle and obscure
Likely to be ignored or dismissed
Denied as a problem related to violence
Escalation • The "Bridge" Stage
Individuals displaying Stage 2 behavior may be close to committing violence. They may feel justified in acting violently because their expectations have not been met. Common characteristics of Stage 2 are:
Demonstrating that they feel victimized by management
Expressing a “me against them” perspective
Becoming vocal about their sense of hopelessness or powerlessness
Displaying actions or behaviors that are causing other employees to become uneasy and concerned
Examples of behaviors of individuals in Stage 2 may display are:
Handles criticism poorly
Argues frequently and intensely and acts out of anger or frustration consistently
Openly and blatantly disobedient of organizational policies and procedures
Sets traps for others
Vandalizes and/or steals from the workplace or from other employees for revenge
Conveys sexual attention to others who do not want it
Maintains an excessive/ obsessive focus on another worker
Makes direct or indirect threats
Individuals displaying Stage 3 behavior pose a clear and present threat of danger. They may cause harm to themselves or to others, though these acts or behaviors do not necessarily indicate that violence will occur. Common characteristics of Stage 3 are:
Acting out of rage
Directly and credibly threatening to cause physical harm to another
Assaulting another person
Confronting and getting into altercations with others
Concealing a weapon to do harm
Committing murder, sexual assault, and/or mayhem
Conducting armed robbery
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE IF AN INCIDENT OCCURS?
If you are hurt or in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1.
Contact your manager and supervisor immediately.
For Los Angeles County Employees, a Security Incident Report (SIR) must be filled out if there is a threat or act of workplace violence.
Report to the Security Operations Unit (SOU) by completing and delivering the SIR within 24 hours. The report shall be completed by the employee involved in the incident, or any supervisor or manager of the affected department.
It is the responsibility of the department head, manager, or supervisor informed of the incident to ensure the submission of the completed SIR. All employees of the County of Los Angeles may contact the SOU at:
Security Operations Unit (SOU)
785 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration,
500 West Temple Street, Room #B-98,
Los Angeles, California, 90012
Los Angeles County provides a Workplace Violence Prevention Program training to all employees in order to prevent workplace violence. Employees are encouraged, ‘If they see something, say something.”
Los Angeles(LA) County Workplace Violence Prevention
Although incidents of workplace violence are an unfortunate reality, the County has taken steps and continues to make comprehensive efforts to ensure that our workforce is safe.
Office of Violence Prevention
Department of Public Health, Office of Violence Prevention
In February 2019, the LA County Board of Supervisors established the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), housed within the Department of Public Health. The purpose of the OVP is to coordinate Countywide violence prevention strategies and initiatives to ensure a violence-free LA County where all individuals are safe, healthy, and thriving. The OVP Strategic Plan outlines five goals to reduce violence and promote healing, including the development of the of Workplace Violence Prevention Training in collaboration with the Department of Human Resources.
Department of Human Resources
The Department of Human Resources (DHR), in partnership with the OVP, formed a high level advisory committee that meets to develop the Workplace Violence Prevention Training and associated activities. It is a subgroup of the DPH OVP Countywide Leadership Committee. The training that is being developed is in two modules: 1) a general overview of workplace violence prevention targeted at all County employees; and 2) a special training for supervisors and managers to go over their specific responsibilities in preventing workplace violence. The training can be accessed here:
Emotional and Mental Health Resources Offered by DHR
DHR offers all County employees and their family members several emotional and mental health resources to enhance their quality of life and maintain a safe and productive work environment. For a comprehensive list of the resources, please visit DHR’s Employee Wellbeing website.
In addition, DHR offers the following services to ensure a safe work environment:
Dispute Resolution Services
Group Conflict Intervention
DHR is pleased to provide departmental management with group conflict intervention, facilitated conversations, and customized training services led by professional facilitators to effectively manage and resolve workplace disputes. For additional information, call (213)974-0632
Domestic Violence Awareness Course
This is a 1 hour and 10 minutes training that presents participants with interviews conducted with subject matter experts. This training intends to help employees understand various forms of domestic/ intimate partner violence, who is impacted, how it can affect the workplace, how to support survivors, and how to seek help through a wide range of local services and resources.
The Security Operations Unit (SOU) in the Sheriff’s Department was established to serve as the central Workplace Violence & Threat Assessment management authority of the County of Los Angeles. This unit serves to:
Monitor and address security issues throughout the County through the administration of the County’s security incident report, threat assessment, and building/physical security assessment programs.
Work with various levels of County management, law enforcement agencies, and other government offices to assess the workplace safety, security needs and issues involving County employees.
Work with County management to identify resources, develop solutions to County employee safety and security issues.
Develop and provide training to County employees in areas such as field safety and violence in the workplace.
Conduct criminal and confidential investigations for the County.
Regulate County badges and identification cards in accordance with the County of Los Angeles’ badge ordinance.
In addition to this Countywide training requirement, the Sheriff’s Department offers the following instructor-led training, which can be delivered upon Department request:
Workplace Violence (2 hours)
Field Safety (2 hours)
Active Shooter (2 hours)
Security Incident Reporting (1 hour)
Security Operations Unit (SOU)
785 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration,
500 West Temple Street, Room #B-98,
Los Angeles, California, 90012
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is part of the Department of Labor and is responsible for establishing and enforcing safety and health standards in the workplace by helping protect employees from hazards and in emergencies. https://www.osha.gov/workplace-violence
Public Health has made reasonable efforts to provide accurate translation. However, no computerized translation is perfect and is not intended to replace traditional translation methods. If questions arise concerning the accuracy of the information, please refer to the English edition of the website, which is the official version.