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What to do when a coworker makes you feel afraid at work

The issue of workplace violence has once again made headlines with the recent murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two TV journalists who were killed by a mentally unstable ex-coworker on live television. It’s a tragic example of what’s become all too common today.

The safety of employees is the highest of priority for most employers, and yet each year, more than 2 million employees have encountered or witnessed some type of workplace violence, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So what should you do if you are a violence at work or worry that coworker’s behavior could lead to violence? Following are some guidelines.

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Workplace violence warning signs:

  • You’ve been verbally, mentally, sexually, or physically abused by a coworker.
  • You’ve received emails or letters from a coworker with issued threats, expletives, or other negative words or drawings.
  • You or other coworkers feel unsafe around this person.
  • You are being blackmailed or threatened in some way by another coworker.
  • You’ve witnessed disturbing, grotesque, or violent behavior by a coworker.

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It is important that employees know how to report episodes of workplace violence or hostility to hopefully stop them before they escalate. Here are some tips to help determine who to go to at what point when a coworker makes you feel afraid.

When to go to your boss:

If you are confronted in any way by a hostile or aggressive coworker, or a person makes you feel frightened or afraid, you need to talk to your boss immediately. Foul language or taunts, verbally abusive emails or exchanges, or even physical confrontations need to be reported right away. Do not wait, and do not think that by not saying anything, it will get better. You do not have to work in a hostile work environment, so speak to your boss to help curtail the issue before it gets any worse. If you are unsure if the behavior is violent, talk to your boss anyway and let them make the call.

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When to go to HR:

If your boss or manager fails to do something about the issue, or you think that the problem needs to be formally reported and documented, then go directly to your Human Resource department. They are trained to handle these matters professionally and confidentially, and can use legal recourse if need be if a termination is required. Having documented instances of the coworker’s behavior also can help the department handle the situation expeditiously.

When to go to the authorities or police:

If you have done the previous two things and you are not seeing any changes in the behavior or it is getting worse, then go directly to the police. They will be able to help you obtain a restraining order or other safeguards in place. If your coworker has threatened bodily injury or physical harm to you, you can bypass going to your boss and HR, and report it immediately to the police since it is breaking the law. Make sure you have documentation of the violence for possible future legal proceedings.

A workplace should be one that is safe and free from violence and ongoing hostility. If you are ever faced with these instances, please act and don’t wait. It is best to be proactive in workplace violence situations to prevent future tragedies.

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