Identifying Violence in the Workplace

Workplace harassment can take many forms, including sometimes violence.  While some instances of violence are obvious and easy to spot, others can be more difficult to identify or understand.  Some instances of workplace violence are illegal, and others are not, but employers are usually responsive to well-founded complaints.

Federal and state laws protect many workers from situations of violence or harassment while at work, if the conduct is motivated by discrimination or if you recognize any of these signs of harassment or violence in your own workplace, speaking to an experienced Seattle, Washington workplace harassment attorney can help you determine what legal options are available and protect your own legal rights if needed.

Just a few identifying factors of workplace violence are:

  • Feeling threatened or disrupted by another’s behavior. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines “workplace violence” as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.”  Often, a feeling of being threatened is the first sign that something is wrong. “Disruptive” can be a vague term, but I interpret it to mean something that makes you change your routine to avoid a situation you reasonably believe is unsafe.
  • Behavior can be physical, verbal, or emotional in nature.  While many instances of workplace violence involve physical assault, the actions do not have to be physical to be violent.  Verbal threats, emotional harassment or manipulation, and other behaviors can also constitute workplace violence, if they are severe and a reasonable person would feel threatened by the behavior in question.
  • Working in the presence of one or more risk factors for workplace violence.  Although workplace violence can occur in any workplace, OSHA has identified several “risk factors” that make a violent or harassing situation more likely.  They include working in industries in which money is exchanged with the public, or where alcoholic drinks are sold, providing services and care for others, or working in areas with high crime rates.  Other situations where we have heard reports of violence in the workplace include work environments where threatening behavior, physical “practical jokes” are prevalent and not controlled by management, or where the company is aware of an employee’s volatile temper, but does not take steps to control that behavior.  These risk factors are only predictors; they are not an exclusive list of situations where violence will occur.

Wherever you are working, if you believe you or your co-workers are in an unsafe situation because of the behavior of another employee, one thing you can do is call my office to schedule a free consultation, to discuss whether legal protections against violence in the workplace might be applicable to your situation.  In many instances, I can assist, either with legal protection or brainstorming and coaching about how best to handle the situation without escalating it to litigation.

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