Preventing worker-on-worker violence in your small business

By Michelle van Schouwen

The term “workplace violence” is used to describe several types of problems. Here, we will focus on worker-on-worker violence, which accounts for only seven percent of all workplace homicides, for example (criminal activities such as robberies make up fully 85 percent of such homicides). However, for an office, manufacturing plant or other facility in which armed and other robberies are not as likely, working to prevent troubled or angry workers from perpetrating acts of violence can help avoid many of the potential dangers you face.

-Know the typical causes of worker-on-worker violence. Disgruntled current or former employees, conflict between employees, employees with anger issues or substance abuse problems, and long-term stress, either on or off the job, can increase the likelihood of worker-initiated violence.

-Conduct background checks for all potential employees. Poor hiring decisions can bring in employees you’ll wish your company had never let in the door.

-Develop written policies to preclude carrying weapons in the workplace. Make sure employees know the policies.

-Develop written policies for discrimination and harassment, drug and alcohol use and safety protocols. Make sure employees understand these policies, too.

-Be receptive to employee complaints, and take them seriously. Encourage your workers to report any concerns about potential violence or about a troubled or angry coworker.

-Provide access to anger management programs for employees who need them. Also support employees who may need to access counseling.

-Dismiss employees who cannot meet your standards for workplace behavior, but see below.

-When you have to fire a problematic employee, have a police officer or security guard on the premises for the day or for several days (you’ll pay for this service). If possible, change your locks and keep doors locked for a period of time after firing a troubled employee. We’ve all heard the terrible stories about a fired employee returning to the office to harm or kill others.

-Create an emergency plan to follow in case of a violent incident, and practice it.

-Train employees in CPR, have first aid supplies on-hand and make sure all employees know how to contact 911 or emergency services.

-Keep your eyes open, and do not deny the possibility that violence could occur in your workplace. No one is immune.

Some of the points above will also support you in the instance of an angry customer, an armed robber or a stranger entering your premises, but I’d recommend also looking at specific resources (including the links above) that address the risks your company may face from criminals, angry customers and from people not related to the business. It’s not feasible to preclude every imaginable scenario, but as a small business owner, you should take smart precautions to protect your employees and customers.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate change mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship ,and works with start-ups to support their development.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover