Workplace Violence: Top Professions That Make You Most Vulnerable to Retaliation

Workplace violence is a serious problem for many people across various sectors. Learn the risks and how to keep yourself safe in this environment.

Quick Overview

In July 2020, tragedy struck North Brunswick, New Jersey, when a disgruntled “anti-feminist” lawyer, approached the home of Esther Salas, a federal judge, ultimately shooting and killing her son and seriously wounding her husband. The incident stemmed from a court case adjudicated by Mrs. Salas and litigated by Roy Den Hollander.

Related: How to Prevent Swatting – 5 Tips To Help You Avoid Getting Swatted and Protect Yourself From It

Reporting on the incident, The New York Times concluded, “The startling sequence of events was a reminder of the dangers encountered by judges.” More broadly, the murder is a stunning example of workplace violence, and it’s one that employees experience far too often. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe at work. 

Understanding Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is frighteningly prevalent, impacting people of every gender, age group, and location. 

According to a study by the National Safety Council (NSC), millions of workers report instances of workplace violence every year, resulting in thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths as unstable, violent, and retaliatory-minded individuals make the workplace a potentially dangerous environment. 

The NSC classifies these episodes into four categories: criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, and personal relationship. However, the targets are overwhelmingly women. 

OneRep is in the business of keeping people safe both online and in real life. We help our users protect their privacy by removing their sensitive information from the internet, and, in 2018, we launched a consumer study to understand our users’ privacy concerns. The results found that among respondents who shared their personal stories, there was a disproportionately large group of people concerned about their privacy due to their work nature. When asked why they took steps to protect their personal information, most cited safety concerns as their primary motivation. 

“I work in a field where people are threatened on a daily basis, and I would like to keep my home and family safe.”

While some professions are more at risk than others, personal safety in the workplace should be a top priority for both employers and employees. 

High-Risk Jobs 

No industry is entirely immune from workplace violence, but some sectors are more prone to this problem. Specifically, the highest risk groups include: 

  • Law enforcement. According to the FBI statistics, 12 of 100 law enforcement officers were assaulted when performing their duties in 2019. 31 percent of these cases resulted in injuries. Given this reality, law enforcement professionals might seem like an obvious occupation to experience violence. However, workplace violence against law enforcement extends beyond their hands-on responsibilities. Uniformed police officers, correction officers, and judges often face threats outside of their day-to-day operations. Retaliation too often confronts the professionals who make arrests or otherwise participate in the pursuit of justice.  When reflecting on the threat of workplace violence and revenge, OneRep customers often voice similar privacy concerns. 

“I work for Probation & Parole and have had my life threatened and the fact they could just come find my home so easily is disturbing.”

“I am a former state prosecutor and I do not want individuals that I sent to jail coming after me.”

“I work in the criminal legal industry and disgruntled convicts would like to “visit” and voice their views. When paroled.”

  • Medical workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence in heathcare is soaring. While such threats take many forms – from patient disputes to distraught family members enacting verbal threats or physical attacks – healthcare workers, especially nurses, face an elevated risk of serious workplace violence.

  • Social workers. These employees similarly face high levels of workplace violence. For example, between 2011 and 2013, there were more than 23,000 workplace assaults, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that these workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than non-healthcare workers. Our survey found that social workers and mental health professionals are worried about this reality. One confided, “I work in mental health and my clients can easily pull up my address and the names and addresses of my family members.” Similarly, another commented, “Patients are looking up private information and discussing it. Using it as a veiled threat.”

  • Journalists. Reporting on unflattering activity or seeming to embrace the wrong ideological convictions can have violent consequences for journalists. The past several years have seen active shooter incidents in newsrooms, including Charlie Hebdo and the Capital Gazette, and individual reporters are increasingly targeted for retaliation. As a result, many journalists are concerned about their personal safety at work and at home.

  • Activists. In an increasingly polarized environment, activists are targeted by online and in-person attacks. There is evidence that the US government surveilled and tracked Black Lives Matter protesters in June 2020, and reports of violent retaliation from counter-protesters are more common than ever.

  • Sex workers. As an industry that often operates outside of the public eye, sex workers are subject to workplace violence by clients, associates, and other industry members.

  • Social Media Influencers. We’ve covered the perilous privacy environment for social media influencers, and a report by Forbes documents a rise in real-world stalking stemming from online engagement. As a result, online personalities face real-world risks as they build and proliferate their careers.

  • Entrepreneurs, CEO’s, & businessmen. Leaders inevitably make enemies, and some are willing to take violent action against management. Laid off or fired workers, unhappy employees, or otherwise troubled individuals put management at risk for workplace violence. For instance, last November, a bad actor targeted Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri by placing a fraudulent call to police, inciting a SWAT unit response. This attack, known as “swatting”, increasingly targets high profile CEOs. 

While these workers come from different backgrounds and operate in unique spheres of influence, the throughline is that they are at risk of workplace violence, which underscores the need to take preventative action. 

How to Protect Yourself From Workplace Violence 

Everyone deserves to feel safe at work, and there are ways that every employee can be proactive to promote a safe, secure environment.

#1 Be alert to recognize potential incidents of workplace violence. To effectively avoid or deal with potentially violent situations, you need to be able to identify the warning signs and violent behaviors in others, such as:

  • Changes in behavior, especially the increasing frequency of disruptive actions
  • Misinterpretation of communications from supervisors, coworkers, or clients.
  • Intimidating behavior toward coworkers or management. 
  • Verbalizing grudges, dissatisfaction, or intent to harm. 

#2 Report and log all threats of workplace violence. There is growing evidence that the majority of instances or threats of workplace violence go unreported. While there are many reasons for this, employees can protect themselves and their coworkers by giving the companies, respective law enforcement agencies, and themselves an opportunity to acknowledge and mitigate the threat. This includes:

  • Reporting threats, intimidation, or unusual behavior to a supervisor. If your supervisor does not act, report the incident to police. 
  • Documenting and sharing your concerns in writing.  
  • Notifying campus police or security. 
  • Contacting a local OSHA office or calling the OSHA hotline at (800) 321 – 6742.

#3 Remote personal information from the internet. It is staggeringly simple for bad actors to acquire peoples’ personal information, including home addresses and contact details, through people-search sites that collect and publish this data. OneRep removes your information from 196 platformsmaking it more difficult for criminals to locate their victims. 

#4 Understand and Implement defense protocols. As workplace violence is better understood, organizations are creating comprehensive defense protocols, guides, and training to prepare employees should an incident occur. Know your options and rehearse your response to a dangerous scenario. 

#5 Communicate often. Beyond reporting threats and incidents of workplace violence, identify a trusted friend, co-worker, family member, or professional to express your concerns of misgivings. Your safety matters, and you don’t have to pursue it alone. 

Let’s Wrap It Up…

Workplace safety is a prerequisite for happy employees and flourishing companies. At OneRep, we are committed to helping people protect their online privacy, which plays a critical role in keeping them safe from the many potential instances of workplace violence that routinely threaten workers in every sector. We’ve already removed more than one million records and can delete yours too. Review our plans or sign up for a free trial so we can start protecting your privacy today.

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Iryna Slabodchykava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep | LinkedIn