How to Handle Workplace Violence

By Lindsey Novak

April 24, 2014 5 min read

Q: We've had layoffs but expect more. We just don't know when or which departments. Most of us have just accepted it, but a few are really angry. My co-workers don't say specific things, but every comment seems angry, even when it's inappropriate. What do I say to a really angry person?

A: If you think your co-worker has become angry and explosive, avoid personal talks and create distance, even though it may seem unnatural to do so. Don't play counselor by asking questions about the person's worries. You may mean well, but seemingly innocent conversations could start trouble. Report your concerns to the human resource department or upper management, if no HR exists in the company. You are not being a "rat"; you are helping, or possibly saving, your co-workers from a dangerous situation.

After an injury brought Navy SEAL Larry Yatch home at the 10-year mark from a tour in the Middle East, Yatch knew SEAL knowledge and skills could save civilians from life-threatening situations. Once a SEAL, always a SEAL, so he founded to educate and train employees to respond correctly to potential workplace violence.

Yatch says the first step is to screen all potential hires for past violence. Criminal background checks, which are typically under $100 per person, are critical, because people who resort to violence think it's an acceptable way to resolve problems. People who commit violent acts in the workplace also often have a history of domestic abuse. Knowing a potential employee has this kind of background can help a company decide against the particular hire and thereby reduce its risk.

Routinely running background checks for all employees pending hire should pose no problems and can potentially save lives and money in case workplace violence does occur and the company is rendered liable.

Companies facing potential layoffs should also establish procedures for deterring violence. Before instituting a layoff, a company should hire experienced security professionals and have a security guard present in meetings with employees. HR and managers should never be in a room alone with a person who might be laid off.

Companies should have defense policies in place so employees know how to handle themselves when confronted. They must learn ways that can prevent violence and the things to do if violence occurs. Knowing where to go is most important so workers don't corner themselves into dead-end locations. They should learn how to behave when they don't have an "out," as this knowledge and the resulting behavior can make the difference in surviving.

Yatch instructs employees to: 1. Run, create distance. 2. If you can't run, barricade yourself. This does not mean hiding; it means placing a heavy item in front of a door to stop access. 3. If people can't do either of the first two options, they should defend themselves.

Yatch says there is strength in numbers. The group should huddle against the wall on either side of the door and never stand in front of a door. If the person breaks through the door barrier, the group should swarm the person, grabbing limbs or any body part to take the person down to the ground. A 100-pound person may not be strong alone, but a group of employees could equal 500 pounds or more, which would enable it to overpower the attacker.

Yatch understands that people hesitate because they worry about being hurt. While one person may get hurt in a group effort to take down and immobilize the person, if employees do nothing, they might all be hurt.

The SEAL mindset says: "I am capable of doing amazing things when I have the right mindset; I will fight until the end; I will never give up; I will never be a victim."

Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @I_truly_care. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at

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