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Respond to Threats in the Workplace

Christine McHugh, Esq., ARM
March 2024
Threats in the Workplace MAsthead
Face threatening employee behavior head-on to have a prepared, proactive work community.

Workplace violence headlines often move employers to review their handling of threats and concerning behavior by staff. Your educational institution, as a large employer, must prepare to face these employee issues and respond with attention and care, as you do for students.

Directly Address Workplace Violence Through Policies and Training

Among the policies and training your K-12 school, college, or university should use to help prevent workplace violence:

  • Ensure there’s an open dialogue about workplace threats and violence. Direct communication, including memorializing information in policies on your website and in employee trainings, allows your community to be aware, informed, and prepared to act.
  • Have a policy that directly addresses and prohibits threatening or violent behavior in the workplace. Your policy should incorporate all staff, including contract employees and temporary personnel. Address the impact that personal relationships can have on workplace safety by incorporating the subject of domestic violence in your policy.
  • Provide information online about types of possible threats, behavioral red flags, and other warning signs. Teach employees to act immediately by calling for emergency assistance if they become aware of any actual violence, imminent violence, or a threat of imminent violence.
  • Routinely assess occupations and locations that present high risks for workplace violence, so that extra safety measures and educational initiatives can be put in place.

In some cases, your state or local law may set policy and training requirements. For example, California law requires a detailed workplace violence prevention plan that is workplace-specific and addresses multiple forms of possible workplace violence. It includes reporting, recordkeeping, and training requirements.

Provide Specialized Training for Supervisors

Supervisory employees should receive extra training on workplace violence policies and how to handle employee threats. This way they can reinforce and comply with the policies should they witness a problem or receive a report.

Make sure supervisors are aware of what types of events can trigger threatening or violent behavior so they know to be on the lookout for personal and career stressors and behavioral warning signs.

Include regular communication training for all employees, but especially for managers, as they may face uncomfortable conversations and challenging issues.

Implement General Safety Policies

Enforce all policies that improve the safety and security of your campus and especially the work environment.

  • Require physical safety and security measures be in place and upheld.
  • Use technological advances such as secure access to buildings, cameras around campus, and phone applications for safety notifications.
  • Carefully consider, document, and share your campus’ approach to firearms and other weapons.
  • Remember the importance of personnel policies that improve safety. For example, follow your background check policies for employees and require appropriate behavior and communication in the workplace.

Emphasize a Community of Care and Collaboration

Active employee engagement is important not only for productivity but also for noticing changes in staff behavior. Provide conflict resolution and management services if possible, as these can be helpful in solving or de-escalating minor problems before they rise to the level of threats. Teach employees how to approach difficult conversations that may arise.

Hold employees to high conduct standards and encourage them to act when they notice concerning changes in a colleague’s behavior. Train them in a variety of response options, such as directly interacting with people or making a report. Set forth guidelines for what behavior rises to the level that it must be reported, while also making clear that anything can be reported.

Establish Reporting Options

Have multiple means for employees to lodge concerns when they witness questionable or threatening behavior.

Means for reporting should include:

Provide specific examples of the types of conduct to report. This gives clarity for concerned community members.

If your threat assessment protocols focus on student needs, also incorporate resources for handling employee concerns and threats. Consider differentiating the threat assessment team members who will participate, depending if the subject of concern is a student or employee.

Remove Threatening People From Campus When Appropriate

Build relationships with your campus law enforcement or safety office so you can turn to them for expertise and assistance. When serious measures are sanctioned — for example, enforcing an administrative suspension or barring a person from campus — work with campus safety to follow through. Don’t let the person work or come to campus if they’re prohibited from doing so. Ensure trespassing orders are upheld consistently.


More From UE

The Double-Edged Sword of Workplace Violence: A Liability Predicament for Employers

Address Workplace Bullying

Checklist: Preventing and Preparing for Active Shooters on Campus

Additional Resources

Shaw Law Group: Customized Workplace Violence Prevention Plans and Training Now Required in California


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