News stories about workplace shootings and homicides are all too common. What doesn’t make the headlines are the many other forms of workplace violence. Threatening behavior and communication are also forms of workplace violence, and these forms of violence have an economic impact to a company as well as an economic and psychological impact on the victims.

Verbal or Written Threats

Language can be powerful whether it is direct or subtle. An example of a direct threat would be a clear statement of an intent to inflict bodily harm. Any expression of an intent to cause harm is a verbal threat. A direct threat does not have to be delivered face-to-face. Threats can be made over the phone, in a video conference, left in a voicemail, send in an email or text message, or in a written letter.

Vague and covert threats are not as easy for the victim to deal with as direct threats. The victim may question their own interpretation of what was said or written. The way the threat was expressed may give the person who threatened a sense of plausible deniability. More commonly, the victim may feel that they would be unable to convince management that a vague threat was an actual threat.

Condescending language is inappropriate in the workplace. It belittles the victim and makes them less likely to contribute to the success of the company. Offensive language and inappropriate discussion topics can also be construed as verbal threats. Even in instances where the participants of a discussion are not offended by the language or topic, other people in the workplace may overhear the discussion and feel threatened or embarrassed by it.


Harassment is unwelcome behavior that embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, or demeans a victim. Harassment takes many forms. It can include words or gestures, intimidation, or other inappropriate activities.

Sometimes the harasser does not recognize his or her actions as harassment, but that does not make the harassment any less detrimental to the victim. An example of this kind of unintentional harassment could be something as simple as following someone around. Not knowing the intentions of the follower, the victim may feel threatened or embarrassed.

The harasser does not have to be physically close to a victim. Some examples of this kind of harassment could include vandalizing a victim’s workspace or vehicle when the victim is not around. Just rearranging items on a desk can be a form of harassment.

Starting rumors about a victim is also harassment as the intent of rumors is to embarrass or humiliate the subject of the rumors. Rumors can also damage the victim’s reputation or undermine their authority in the company.

Physical Threats

Physical threats are not limited to physical contact. Fist shaking, banging doors or tables, and throwing objects are physical threats. Invading someone’s personal space or blocking a doorway are also physical threats. Door slamming or doorway blocking can seem extremely threatening to the victim if it prevents them from trying to leave a room to avoid a confrontation.

Striking or pushing a victim is an obvious form of physical attack, but sometimes these actions can be disguised as something less obvious. A bump or a pat on the back can be a friendly gesture, but they can also convey a threat in certain contexts.


To make sure your company is doing all it reasonably can to prevent workplace violence, consider a workplace violence assessment. An assessment will review and evaluate your company’s policies, resources, and capabilities to see if they are adequate to help protect your employees from the various forms of workplace violence.

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