A Guide to the 4 Main Types of Workplace Violence


Over 2 million Americans experience some kind of workplace violence in a single year — and countless more will in the future. 

Violence in the workplace, in shopping malls, in medical care facilities, and in schools is becoming all too common in the United States. We know that you want to do everything in your power to ensure that your employees feel safe when they come into work every day. 

However, about 1/3 of Americans workers say that they have absolutely no idea what to do if they experience violence or a threat of violence in the workplace. 

So, while workplace violence is something that everyone is concerned about, it’s not something that everyone is prepared for — but it absolutely should be. 

Part of being prepared means understanding that there are different types of workplace violence.

Read on to get a better understanding of the 4 main kinds of violence in the workplace. Then, learn how you can identify these potential risks and develop an emergency plan that everyone in your office understands and agrees on. 

What Is Workplace Violence?

Before we discuss the different types of workplace violence, let’s make sure that you’re clear on its definition. 

When many people think of the term “workplace violence,” they likely picture mass shootings or fist fights between employees. However, violence in the workplace is much broader than those acts alone. 

It is actually defined as any kind of act where an employee is assaulted, abused, harassed, or even threatened in the workplace. This means that verbal abuse, written threats, verbal threats, and even threatening behavior like throwing objects or even shaking fists at another person could be considered workplace violence. 

You are at an increased risk of falling victim to workplace violence if you work with the public, handle money or prescription drugs, work for law enforcement or the government, or even if you work in a place that serves alcohol. 

You’re also at a higher risk if you work with criminals or psychiatric patients, in a community center, if you work in transportation, or if you’re working during a change in leadership, strikes, or massive layoffs.

1. Criminal Intent 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH for short, has outlined four main types of workplace violence. 

The first is criminal intent. 

These are violent/criminal acts that are committed by people who don’t have a legitimate relationship with your business or your employees, and who enter into your workplace with the intention of committing some sort of a crime. Usually, violence happens in tandem with another crime, like shoplifting, a robbery, or even trespassing. 

These are usually random acts of violence by people who are completely unknown to you.

The majority of acts of workplace violence fall within the criminal intent category. These acts are especially common in high-risk businesses and jobs, like working in a jewelry store, working as a bank teller, or working in a retail business with a cash register. 

2. Customer, Client, or Patient Violence

While criminal intent violence is committed by a “random” individual who doesn’t have any kind of legitimate relationship with your business, the customer/client/patient violence category is different. 

It refers to violence that’s committed by your clients, your customers, your students, your patients, or anyone else that is known to your business.

Though flight attendants and, of course, correctional officers and teachers are at a higher risk for this kind of violence, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff are usually the most victimized.

Shockingly, about 3 out of every 10 nurses will experience some sort of physical violence in the workplace, most often perpetrated by one of their own current or past patients. 

3. Worker-on-Worker Violence

The third type of workplace violence is worker-on-worker violence. 

This happens between current workers, or between current employees and former employees. For example, a manager may threaten a sales representative, or a disgruntled former employee may return to their past workplace to “seek revenge” on the person who fired them. 

These types of violent acts are more likely to happen after firings, downsizings, or even when hiring managers don’t run thorough background checks on potential new hires. 

4. Personal Relationship Violence 

The final kind of workplace violence is perhaps the most difficult kind of violence to prevent because it involves someone who works at your office and someone who does not. 

Here, the violent act is committed by someone that one (or more)of your employees have a personal relationship with. Acts of domestic violence, where an intimate partner threatens or harms an employee at their place of work, will fall into this category. 

The perpetrator could also be a friend, a parent, a neighbor, or anyone else who knows the victim. 

Because your business is likely open to the general public, it can be incredibly tough to identify and mitigate the risks of personal relationship violence. Women are more likely to be the victim of an act of personal relationship violence in the workplace than men. 

Protect Your Team from the Four Types of Workplace Violence

Thanks to this post, you now have a much better understanding of the four main types of workplace violence. 

However, we understand that, above all, you want to know what you can do to prevent these acts of violence from happening in the first place. 

That’s where we come in. 

We’ll help you to identify potential areas of risk in your workplace, and develop a system for employees to safely report threats and strange behavior without risking their personal safety or opening your company up to a lawsuit. 

We’ll also help you to fill in the gaps in your security plan, train your employees on how to respond to workplace violence, and much more.

Everyone deserves to feel safe at work.

We’re here to help you make that happen. Reach out to us today to get started.