Frequently Asked Questions

Workplace Violence Prevention

[fa icon="plus-square"] What is a Fitness for Duty exam, and what is its role in threat assessment?

Typically, a fitness for duty evaluation is different from a threat assessment. A threat assessment raises immediate questions pertaining to the safety and well-being of either clients or employees with regard to concern for violence. A fitness for duty evaluation addresses whether someone is impaired because of substance abuse or mental illness that stops them from performing their job responsibilities. The goal of the fitness for duty evaluation is to restore someone to their optimal functioning. The workplace violence threat assessment evaluation emphasizes protecting others and managing what might be an ongoing threat.

[fa icon="plus-square"] Is suicide workplace violence?

We must remember that violence can be emotional as well as physical. Most of us have read about what is referred to as a “murder-suicide” event, recognizing that they can occur together. The answer depends on the context and circumstances that define whether there is a link between someone’s desire to commit suicide and potential workplace violence.

[fa icon="plus-square"] How is threat management different from threat assessment?

With most organizations, there is concern whether individuals or a group of individuals pose a threat to others. The threat assessment process attempts to look at relevant factors that are available in the moment to assess potential for violence. Threat management typically occurs concurrently and after threat assessment and looks at factors such as triggering events and safety plans with the goal of building an ongoing safety and prevention model.

[fa icon="plus-square"] We are a local high school and have been alarmed by recent shooter incidents. What should we be considering as we implement a plan to keep our campus safe?

Schools need to have a threat assessment plan in place. Practicing sheltering in place, learning to get out when in doubt, and having a sense of where to go and how to get there are proactive stages in preparing for individuals who might enter a school property discharging firearms. However, creating pro social environments where both children and adults are trained to report immediately if they see something, is important to a culture of safety and prevention.

[fa icon="plus-square"] What is the difference between an “internal” threat and an “external” threat?

An internal threat is posed by someone within an organization or business such as employees who have access to the facilities. Internal threats can involve such elements such as theft, sabotage, acts of vandalism and violence. There are two types of external threats. One comes from individuals that have a relationship with the employees. The second arises from outsiders or clients that have a vendetta that they are pursuing. These acts of violence include attacks at houses of worship such as the recent church shooting. For example, a hospital can become a target because someone’s loved one died in the emergency room and the person wants vengeance. Both internal and external potential sources of violence need to be part of an organization’s threat management plan.

[fa icon="plus-square"] Is domestic violence a workplace safety issue?

Domestic violence is an example of an external threat that might enter a workplace. For example, a disgruntled former husband may go to a beauty parlor where his former wife was working to end her life and her coworkers'. This event occurred in California’s Orange County and reflects the need for organizations to be aware when employees or owners have obtained a restraining order. The recent deaths of an elementary school teacher and the child standing directly behind her is another occurrence of domestic violence entering a classroom. Domestic violence needs to be treated as a safety issue depending on the hostility, access to weapons and other factors that need to be considered. Organizations need to determine if there are employees that have obtained Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO).

[fa icon="plus-square"] We have an EAP provider. Is it appropriate to send an employee who has made a threat to see EAP?

Having an (EAP) employee assistance program is a good business practice as it supports the work force in dealing with the everyday stressors of living that might impact employees’ health, happiness and stress levels. These can influence someone’s ability to continue working. However, an EAP is not the place to obtain a threat assessment as generally those providers are not trained to determine the potential for targeted violence. Also, an EAP session offers employee confidentiality. A threat assessment is shared with others in the organization including the HR, security, and potentially law enforcement. Having an EAP perform a threat assessment confuses employees about its function and results in them being less inclined to use their EAP. If this occurs, the organization loses the benefits of having an EAP.

[fa icon="plus-square"] What is a CTM, and how would they help a workplace that was concerned about potential violence?

The Certified Threat Manager is a professional who has proven he or she has the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform a specific role on a threat assessment and as a part of a threat management team.[1] The CTM can provide an organization a “best practices” approach for assessing and managing potentially violent situations. The CTM can guide an organization through the process of establishing and maintaining an effective and legally sound workplace violence prevention and intervention program. They adhere to high ethical standards and stay abreast of developing methods and strategies for preventing violence in the workplace.


[1] Association of Threat Assessment Professionals website:

[fa icon="plus-square"] If you think an employee may become violent, should you terminate them immediately?

No, this could expose an organization to legal consequences such as a lawsuit for unlawful termination. However, you should take the situation seriously and seek assistance from a reputable threat assessment/management professional (see comments concerning the CTM above). A prompt, well organized investigation should be launched to objectively gather the facts of the situation, assess the potential for violence, and develop/implement a management strategy that will keep people safe. The goal of threat assessment is to PREVENT violence, rather than to PREDICT whether an individual will act out violently.

[fa icon="plus-square"] Who typically investigates a threat that is reported in the workplace?

The most common department to be faced with investigating threats in the workplace is Human Resources. If you are that person in your organization, we urge you to seek out (before a situation occurs) a threat assessment and management professional who can provide guidance in these potentially dangerous situations.

[fa icon="plus-square"] What is a threat assessment team? Does our organization need one?

The Threat Assessment Team (TAT) is a multi-disciplinary group with special training and experience in assessing and managing potentially violent situations. What does “multi-disciplinary” mean? This term indicates a group of employees who are selected to provide expertise in their area of responsibility in the organization. A typical TAT may be comprised of employees from:

  • Human Resources
  • Security or Facilities
  • Legal (outside on in-house counsel)
  • Union Leaders
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • Risk Management
  • Public Relations or Communications

When considering whether your organization needs a TAT, it's important to know that having a TAT can improve your organization’s ability to respond appropriately to threats and other potentially violent situations. This is considered a “best practices” approach to address violence in the workplace. Once the TAT is established and properly trained, the group can not only address threatening situations, but they can also be helpful in leading the organization’s workplace violence prevention and intervention program.

[fa icon="plus-square"] What are OSHA requirements related to workplace violence prevention?

According to OSHA, there are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence.

However, under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm." The courts have interpreted OSHA's general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.

An employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training.

[fa icon="plus-square"] I was approached today by one of our shift supervisors …

Sometimes supervisors and managers choose to ignore, and therefore not have to deal with, troubling behaviors. It is easier to write it off as, “Joe does that – he was just blowing off steam.” You may consider calling the manager in and explain that the employee’s behavior is not acceptable and is a violation of your workplace prevention policies. If you dig deeper with the manager, you may find more of Joe’s (and other’s) troubling behaviors. Conduct an objective and thorough investigation and determine the proper level of discipline. When you interview the subject employee, take the opportunity to clearly set boundaries and define what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior.

[fa icon="plus-square"] As an HR professional, I believe that safety is paramount …

You are not missing something – all organizations, large and small and those in between, should have a workplace violence prevention program. Prepare some talking points before approaching your boss. Your main goal is to convince the boss that this planning will send the message to employees that you take their safety and well-being seriously. In the current environment of extensive (almost daily, it seems) media coverage of workplace or school violence incidents, your employees will probably appreciate your attention to this subject. They may have questions such as: “Could this happen at our workplace?” “What am I supposed to do if it does?” For some more thoughts, read Dr. Suzanne Hoffman’s blog on How to Sell the C-Suite on Workplace Violence Prevention: Influencing Your Execs 

[fa icon="plus-square"] Our HR team routinely does investigations …

While your team is probably experienced in HR-related investigations, the practice areas related to conducting threat assessments and developing threat management strategies require some specific knowledge and skills. Often, organizations choose to establish, train and maintain an internal Threat Assessment Team (TAT), a multi-disciplinary group specially trained to investigate and manage threats of violence. In fact, the Human Resource Department is the perfect group to lead this effort, as they are accustomed to fact-finding investigations. After your TAT is trained, your organization will be better prepared to deal with potential violence in the workplace.

[fa icon="plus-square"] When does it make sense to get a TRO?

Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO’s) can be a useful tool if obtained under the right circumstances. For example, if you have a person who is repeatedly calling or showing up at the workplace to harass and threaten your employees, the TRO may be warranted. BUT, keep in mind, a TRO is only a piece of paper – it is not the cure-all for a problem. Consider these factors when determining whether to seek a TRO:

  • Does local law enforcement respond and effectively enforce TROs?
  • Has the person been a subject of a TRO in the past? If so, did they abide by or did they violate the order? This may indicate the effectiveness of this tool.
  • Does the TRO prohibit firearm purchase, possession, etc.? If the person is known to have firearms, will law enforcement be willing (or legally able) to confiscate the firearms?

Restraining or protective orders, if utilized, should be a part of a threat management strategy, and not the only tool considered.

[fa icon="plus-square"] What would be important to include in WPV training …

If your employees regularly deal with the public, you should include topics such as:

  • Effective communication skills (active listening, rapport building, etc.)
  • De-escalation techniques
  • Situational awareness
  • Safety procedures
  • When and how to report troubling or threatening behaviors
  • Emergency evacuation procedures


Active Shooter

[fa icon="plus-square"] We did Active Shooter training last year, so have we met our obligation as an employer to provide a safe workplace?
In regards to the specific threat of an active shooter you are off to a good start. You have recognized the threat and have taken the first step in preparing your organization. I would recommend some recurring training.  People are not at their best during a crisis.  The better trained they are, the better response there will be to an emergency situation like an active shooter. I would also incorporate some training on threat recognition and reporting. This will help your organization in violence prevention through early intervention.
[fa icon="plus-square"] What does ‘situational awareness’ mean?

By definition situational awareness is the conscious knowledge we have of the immediate environment and all of the events happening in it. The elements are perceived and comprehended.

From a security standpoint, situational awareness is the ability to recognize a potential threat and take action to mitigate the risk. Being aware of a pending threat gives you more time to think and react. For more details see my Blog at:

[fa icon="plus-square"] Can knowing effective de-escalation techniques prevent workplace violence incidents with customers or clients?
De-Escalation techniques can be effective with everyone. De-Escalation techniques are based on the way we communicate with one another. Anger and violence are often closely associated; if we can reduce anger we may be able to lessen the potential for violence as well. We know that anger is usually driven by people’s emotion as opposed to their rational thoughts. We can teach employees to respond to angry and escalating individuals with effective techniques that can reduce emotionality and impulsivity, and increase rational thinking. This is where de-Escalation techniques, when used appropriately, can help prevent incidents of violence in the workplace.


Sexual Harassment  

[fa icon="plus-square"] If we train our managers and employees once every 2 years, have we met our obligation?

While training managers and employees is an essential part of any effective sexual harassment program, it’s not the only important component of addressing harassment in the workplace. Sound policies and reporting structures are critical, and must be communicated not only through training but on an ongoing basis. Further, it’s important for any organization to set the tone and to create a culture of respect throughout the organization. This includes consistent messaging from the CEO and executive leadership that a respectful workplace is a core value for the organization and that all employee initiatives, including a prohibition against harassing behavior, are paramount to a healthy and productive work environment.   

[fa icon="plus-square"] Can someone other than the direct victim be affected by sexual harassment?

Absolutely. Those who witness harassment can be affected and even traumatized by it, even if it didn’t happen directly to them. The term for this is “vicarious harassment” – and it’s important to note that this type of harassment can affect anyone who works in an environment where harassment occurs. If the harassment is not addressed and stopped immediately, the effects can be significant and include lost work days, poor productivity, employee turnover, and litigation against the organization for victims of both direct and vicarious harassment. 

[fa icon="plus-square"] In the era of #metoo, what is NOT sexual harassment?

Sometimes understanding what sexual harassment is not can be helpful for someone trying to determine whether they are experiencing sexual harassment. The EEOC states that “simple teasing, offhand comments, isolated incidents that are not very serious” is not illegal sexual harassment.

The key appears to be whether there is either the creation of a hostile work environment or an adverse employment outcome. Examples of adverse employment outcome include not being offered a position, or being offered a lesser position in the sense that the title or compensation levels are below what they otherwise would have been. For an existing employee, termination of a position, a denied or slowed promotion path, a demotion and many other possible actions could theoretically constitute an adverse (or negative) employment outcome.

[fa icon="plus-square"] So when is a workplace a “Hostile Workplace”?

According to the EEOC, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.” Additionally, the behavior, actions or communications must be discriminatory in nature. That is, they must discriminate against a protected classification, such as age, religion, disability or race.

While the EEOC provides some examples of what sorts of behavior would be offensive, their list is certainly not exhaustive. They explain that offensive conduct could include:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Slurs
  • Epithets or name calling
  • Physical assaults or threats
  • Intimidation
  • Ridicule or mockery
  • Insults or put-downs
  • Offensive objects or pictures
  • Interference with work performance

To meet the criteria for hostile work environment, the behavior or communication must be severe, pervasive, lasting over time, and behavior that seriously disrupts the employee’s work.

[fa icon="plus-square"] A mid-level manager reported that she had a relationship with a co-worker but that they have since broken up. She was wondering if she could still file a complaint for sexual harassment if he decides to pursue her for a dating relationship in the future?

A sexual harassment complaint is based on unwelcome conduct. If she made it clear to her co-worker she was no longer interested in him, any unwelcome sexual attention that is severe or pervasive could be the basis for a harassment claim. She must make it very clear to her co-worker that the attention is unwelcome. If she does, her prior involvement will not excuse his harassment.

[fa icon="plus-square"] If a co-worker or supervisor comments on an employee’s clothing or appearance, is that sexual harassment?

It depends. Telling an employee to dress more professionally is unlikely to be seen as sexual harassment but repeatedly suggesting to an employee that she wear more revealing clothes as a way to impress the boss, however, could be seen as sexual harassment. Likewise, an innocuous compliment, such as "that's a nice dress," would not be harassment; but if it were followed up with a sexual comment ("it really shows off your curves"), that type of behavior would be inappropriate. The key is whether the behavior creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

[fa icon="plus-square"] A project manager in our organization was recently denied a promotion. HR subsequently learned that the promotion went to his supervisor's girlfriend. Does this constitute sexual harassment?

This sounds more like nepotism – but if the business exists in an environment where sexual favors are required of employees who wish to receive promotions or other favorable treatment from supervisors, this could be viewed as sexual harassment.

[fa icon="plus-square"] An employee recently reported that the person in the cubicle next to them spends a lot of time downloading pornography from the Internet to his work computer. She can see these images each time she walks by. She came to HR to voice her concerns. We weren’t sure - is this sexual harassment?

Hmmm... Does intentionally he draw others' attention to what he has downloaded? Does he continue to download pornography even after he has been told that others find it offensive? If so, this could be sexual harassment - just because the activity is not directed at her specifically does not mean that she isn’t being affected.


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