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PSYCHOLOGY: Workplace Hostility

While it is impossible to prevent workplace hostility and violence, much can be done to limit its occurrence, protect employees and mitigate the impact. The basic foundation of any hostility mitigation program is to have a comprehensive policy. Often, m

By Dr. G.L., Ph.D.


While it is impossible to prevent workplace hostility and violence, much can be done to limit its occurrence, protect employees and mitigate the impact.  The basic foundation of any hostility mitigation program is to have a comprehensive policy.  Often, many organizations have a very limited and general statement as part of an employee handbook; however, this is of limited facilitation when combating the wide range of hostility that is prevalent in many workplaces.


In addition to increasing the protection for employees, a policy backed up with supervisory training, employee education and administrative follow-through also provides an organization with increased protection in the event of litigation.


It is also acknowledged that “displaced” domestic violence remains a significant source of workplace incidents.  Often, the media report a story of a woman who has been stalked, injured or killed in the workplace by an estranged husband/boyfriend.  Policies must take these types of incidents into account and include tactics for providing protection for these individuals as much as possible.

The following is a sample policy that includes language for domestic violence situations;

It is the goal of the ABC Corporation to provide a physically and emotionally safe work environment. It is imperative that all employees, customers, contractors and guests, at every level, be treated with the respect and dignity afforded to all humans regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender, age, sexual preference or position within the organization. To this end, this policy is being implemented to assist in clarifying the behavioral and procedural expectations.

Definition of Hostility and Violence: No employee shall engage in hostile and/or violent behavior on company property or during any type of company-related activity. Hostility refers to any non-physical forms of harassment, discrimination, and offensive behavior. Examples include but are not limited to: ethnic/sexual/racial jokes; verbal threats or offensive gestures; yelling and/or swearing at an individual; stalking or harassing phone calls, faxes and pager messages. Violence is any behavior that results in unwanted physical contact such as hitting, pushing, spitting, biting or damage to property. Unwanted sexual contact is certainly considered to be hostile and violent behavior. There may be other behaviors that do not fall within these definitions, but also may be considered inappropriate for the workplace.

Definition of Weapons: No employee may bring any firearm, knife or other form of armament to the workplace or any type of company-related activity. This includes personal lockers, automobiles, etc. No employee may use any object or equipment (e.g.., letter openers, ashtrays, chairs, tools, etc.) as a “weapon” to threaten and/or to inflict bodily harm or damage to property.

Investigation Process: It is expected that any employee experiencing or witnessing this type of behavior will make a report to Personnel, Security or Human Resources. The alleged incident will be evaluated and investigated.  Also, if a union member is involved, the union official, steward, etc. will be notified immediately of the incident and of the investigation. If required, local law enforcement may be contacted. 

Pending the results of the full investigation, the individual(s) involved may: a) be allowed to continue to work; b) be placed on administrative leave; c) be referred for a medical/psychological evaluation; d) be taken into the custody of the law enforcement agency; e) be transferred; f) be placed on some other administrative status.

Confidentiality of Investigation: Every effort will be made to respect the confidentiality of all involved parties; however, this may not always be possible to guarantee, given the nature of the investigation. There may be occasions when other employees/witnesses will be interviewed about the alleged event or the alleged perpetrator’s behavior.  Should a referral to the EAP or a medical/psychological professional be indicated, a waiver of confidentiality will be requested in order for the investigating party to receive the results of the evaluation.  It is understood that the evaluation is not a part of the disciplinary process, but is rather an effort to determine the individual’s ability to return to work.

Disciplinary Action: Upon completion of the investigation, a decision will be made regarding discipline. Hostile and/or violent behavior may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

The goal of this policy is to prevent incidents from occurring and, for those that do, from escalating.  Further, it is not the intent of this policy to infringe on the rights of any employee, but rather to insure courteous behavior.  The goal is to do everything possible to ensure a safe work environment for all personnel at all levels.  It also should be noted that any parties involved in an alleged incident have the right to seek legal counsel at their own expense

Sample Language for Restraining Order Policy

The ABC Corporation makes every effort to maintain a safe work environment.  It is also understood that people may have experiences in their personal lives that may place them in vulnerable circumstances.  At times, people seek assistance from the police and courts that will issue a restraining order against someone.  Certainly, this is a personal matter and the ABC Corporation has no desire to intrude on one’s privacy.  However, in an effort to maintain your safety as well as the safety of your coworkers, the following is suggested protocol:

  • If you have a restraining order issued against an individual, please inform HR, Security, etc.
  • Please bring a copy of the restraining order that will be kept in a confidential file in case the          police need to be called.
  • If possible, please bring a picture of the individual.
  • All efforts will be made to respect and protect your privacy and only essential personnel will be informed of your situation.  Who is notified will be discussed with you.
  • Please feel free to discuss with HR or your department manager anything that may be done to facilitate your safety and welfare while at work.
  • It is also strongly urged that you seek support services from the EAP (phone #).
  • If your circumstances change and the status of the restraining order is modified, please advise HR and Security.

Once again, it is understood that these may be difficult and private situations. As much as is possible, our goal is to maintain a safe work environment for you and your coworkers. We appreciate your cooperation.