Identifying Problem Situations and Risk Factors of Current Employees

Problem situations – circumstances that may heighten the risk of violence – can involve a particular event or employee, or the workplace as a whole.

No “profile” or litmus test exists to indicate whether an employee might become violent. Instead, it is important for employers and employees alike to remain alert to

problematic behavior that, in combination, could point to possible violence. No one behavior in and of itself suggests a greater potential for violence, but all must be looked at in totality.

Risk factors at times associated with potential violence include personality conflicts (between coworkers or between worker and supervisor); a mishandled termination or other disciplinary action; bringing weapons onto a work site; drug or alcohol use on the job; or a grudge over a real or imagined grievance. Risks can also stem from an employee’s personal circumstances – breakup of a marriage or romantic relationship; other family conflicts; financial or legal problems; or emotional disturbance.

Other problematic behavior also can include, but is not limited to:

  • Increasing belligerence
  • Ominous, specific threats
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Recent acquisition/fascination with weapons
  • Apparent obsession with a supervisor or coworker or employee grievance
  • Preoccupation with violent themes
  • Interest in recently publicized violent events
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Extreme disorganization
  • Noticeable changes in behavior
  • Homicidal/suicidal threats

Though a suicide threat may not be heard as threatening to others, it is nonetheless a serious danger sign.

Some extreme violent acts are in fact suicidal – wounding or killing someone else in the expectation of being killed, a phenomenon known in law enforcement as “suicide by cop”. In addition, many workplace shootings often end in suicide by the offender.

While no definitive studies currently exist regarding workplace environmental factors that can contribute to violence, it is generally understood that the following factors can contribute to negativity and stress in the workplace, which in turn may precipitate problematic behavior. Such factors include:

  • Frustrations arising from poorly defined job tasks and responsibilities
  • Downsizing or reorganization

. Labor disputes and poor labor-management relations Poor management styles (for example, arbitrary or unexplained orders; over monitoring; corrections or reprimands in front of other employees, inconsistent discipline)

  • Inadequate security or a poorly trained, poorly motivated security force
  • A lack of employee counseling
  • A high injury rate or frequent grievances may be clues to problem situations in a workplace