Violence Prevention Brochure: Maintaining A Safe Workplace


Preventing and Responding to
Disruptive, Threatening, or Violent Behavior

Workplace safety has become a major concern to managers and employees alike. Media attention has resulted in fear and apprehension, yet violence is less common than is popularly believed. Given the many millions of workers, the probability is very low that any single individual will be involved in a violent workplace incident leading to serious injury.

Still, prevention is critical. Incidents involving disruptions and threats are increasing, and early intervention helps prevent more serious acts.

In 1994 the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued Guidelines for Workplace Security, which require employers to include, as part of their safety program, measures designed to make the workplace more secure from acts of violence.

The following information is provided to highlight stresses and risks in the work environment, to enhance workplace safety, and to reduce and prevent disruption and violence.

We present this information not in the expectation that an incident will occur, but because knowledge and preparation are the best ways to minimize and avoid such events.

What is Disruptive, Threatening or Violent Behavior?

UC Davis policies prohibit disruption and obstruction of University functions and activities, verbal threats, and behavior endangering the health or safety of any individual.

Disruptive behavior disturbs, interferes with or prevents normal work functions or activities. Examples: yelling, using profanity, waving arms or fists, verbally abusing others, and refusing reasonable requests for identification.

Threatening behavior includes physical actions short of actual contact/injury (e.g., moving closer aggressively), general oral or written threats to people or property, ["You better watch your back" or "I'll get you"] as well as implicit threats ["you'll be sorry" or "this isn't over"].

Violent behavior includes any physical assault, with or without weapons; behavior that a reasonable person would interpret as being potentially violent [e.g., throwing things, pounding on a desk or door, or destroying property], or specific threats to inflict physical harm [e.g., a threat to shoot a named individual].

Preventative Steps to Maintain a Safe Workplace

Workplaces prone to disruptive incidents are often characterized by high levels of unresolved conflict and poor communication. Conflict at work is normal, but must be addressed promptly and effectively, not avoided or suppressed.

Disruptive behavior can be reduced or prevented by facilitating a workplace environment that promotes healthy, positive means of airing and resolving problems (methods that do not disrupt the workplace or harm or frighten others). It is also essential to improve the conflict management skills of managers and staff, to set and enforce clear standards of conduct, and to provide help (e.g. mediation and counseling) to address conflicts early.

Dealing with Performance Problems or Conflicts
  1. Intervene promptly; don't let the situation fester.
  2. Contact Employee and Labor Relations (E&LR) 754-8892 to gather information about your rights and responsibilities as a manager before meeting with those involved.
  3. Contact Academic and Staff Assistance Program (ASAP) 752-2727 regarding coaching and counseling around behaviors in these situations.
  4. Be clear about the facts of the problem as you see them.
  5. Ask individuals involved to describe their perceptions of the problem (if appropriate).
  6. Set clear expectations for improvement in job performance or in the relationship.
  7. Assess additional needed resources and seek outside help as necessary.
  8. Follow up to be sure that your expectations are met and directed changes are made.

E&LR consultants can explain policies and procedures for performance problems, including corrective action. ASAP can provide referrals for counseling, suggest and facilitate approaches to problems with employees or intra-office conflicts, and provide support to faculty and staff who feel endangered or threatened by workplace situations or personal conflicts. These resources can provide "coaching" on how to handle the problem, or, if you prefer, intervene directly on your behalf. Mediation Services can provide assistance with intra-office conflicts by opening lines of communication to address the conflict. The key to prevention is creating a work environment that confronts problems before they escalate.

Sometimes problems involve not only employees in your unit but other members of the campus community as well. The campus has established teams for responding to situations involving multiple units and that disrupt the workplace or may become dangerous. The Staff and Faculty Crisis Response Team is available to assist in situations involving staff/faculty. This team includes representatives from the following:

  • Police 752-4391
  • Academic & Staff Assistance Program 752-2727
  • Employee & Labor Relations 754-8892
  • Faculty Relations 752-0963
  • and other University resources.

For situations involving students, contact the Student Crisis Response Team, which includes the

  • Counseling Center 752-0871
  • Student Housing 752-1736
  • Student Judicial Affairs 752-1128
  • Police 752-3278.
  • Academic & Staff Assistance Program 752-2727

Both teams can advise supervisors and managers regarding potentially violent or risky situations. To contact either team, telephone any member and request a consultation.

Consultation, intervention, and referral for assistance can diffuse a tense situation and prevent it from becoming disruptive or violent. Compliance with the personnel policies and procedures of the University and of your specific department are essential.

Indicators of Problem Behavior

Below is a list of behaviors and attitudes that may be indicators of disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior. If you observe a pattern of such behaviors and attitudes that causes you concern, please call a member of the Crisis Response Team for a consultation.


  • Upset over recent event(s) [work or personal crisis]
  • Recent major change in behavior, demeanor, appearance
  • Recently has withdrawn from normal activities, family, friends, co-workers
  • Intimidating, verbally abusive, harasses or mistreats others
  • Challenges/resists authority
  • Blames others for problems in life or work; suspicious, holds grudges
  • Use/abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Unwelcome obsessive romantic attention
  • Stalking
  • Makes threatening references to other incidents of violence
  • Makes threats to harm self, others, or property
  • Weapons - has or is fascinated with weapons
  • Has known history of violence
  • Has communicated specific proposed act(s) of disruption or violence


  • Is isolated or a loner
  • Morally superior, self-righteous
  • Feels entitled to special rights and that rules don't apply to him/her
  • Feels wronged, humiliated, degraded; wants revenge
  • Believes to have no choices or options for action except violence
How to respond to disruptive, threatening or violent behavior
STEP 1: General response to disruptive behavior (no threats or weapons)
  1. Respond quietly and calmly. Try to defuse the situation.
  2. Do not take the behavior personally. Usually, the behavior has little to do with you, but you are used as a target in the situation.
  3. Ask questions. Respectful concern and interest may demonstrate that aggression is not necessary.
  4. Consider offering an apology. Even if you've done nothing wrong, an apology may calm the individual and encourage cooperation. "I'm sorry that happened. What can we do now that will solve the problem?"
  5. Summarize what you hear the individual saying. Make sure you are communicating clearly. In crisis, a person feels humiliated and wants respect and attention. Your summary of the individual's concerns reflects your attention. Focus on areas of agreement to help resolve the concern.

If this approach does not stop the disruption, assess whether the individual seems dangerous. If in your best judgment he/she is upset but not a threat, set limits and seek assistance as necessary.

STEP 2: Step 1 response ineffective, individual DOES NOT seem dangerous
  1. Calmly and firmly set limits. "Please lower your voice. There will be no disruptions in this office." "Please be patient so that I can understand what you need and try to help you."
  2. Ask the individual to stop the behavior and warn that official action may be taken. "Disruption is subject to University action. Stop or you may be reported."
  3. If the disruption continues despite a warning, tell the individual that he/she may be disciplined or prosecuted, state that the discussion is over, and direct them to leave the office. "Please leave now. If you do not leave, we will call the Police."
  4. If the individual refuses to leave after being directed to do so, state that this refusal is also a violation subject to discipline, exclusion from work, or arrest.
STEP 3: Step 1 response ineffective and the individual SEEMS DANGEROUS
  1. If possible, find a quiet, safe place to talk, but do not isolate yourself with an individual you believe may be dangerous. Maintain a safe distance, do not turn your back, and stay seated if possible. Leave the door open or open a closed door, and sit near the door. Be sure a co-worker is near to help if needed.
  2. Use a calm, non-confrontational approach to defuse the situation. Indicate your desire to listen and understand the problem. Allow the person to describe the problem.
  3. NEVER touch the individual yourself to try to remove him/her from the area. Even a gentle push or holding the person's arm may be interpreted as an assault by an agitated individual who may respond with violence towards you or file a lawsuit later.
  4. Set limits to indicate the behavior needed to deal with the concern. "Please lower your voice." "Please stop shouting (or using profanity) or I'll have to ask you to leave."
  5. Signal for assistance. The individual may be antagonized if you call for assistance so use a prearranged 'distress' signal to have another staff member check on you to determine how you are. If you need help, the co-worker should alert your supervisor and/or the police.
  1. Do not mention discipline or the police if you fear an angry or violent response.
  2. If the situation escalates, find a way to excuse yourself, leave the room/area and get help.
"You've raised some tough questions. I'll consult my supervisor to see what we can do."


For crimes in progress, violent incidents or specific threats of imminent violence, call 9-1-1.

Immediately contact the UCD Police (2-1230) or have someone call for you if an individual

  • makes threats of physical harm toward you, others, or him/herself;
  • has a weapon; or
  • behaves in a manner that causes you to fear for your own or another's safety

Use a phone out of sight/hearing of the individual. The police will respond and take appropriate action.

  1. Do not attempt to intervene physically or deal with the situation yourself. It is critical that the police take charge of any incident that can or does involve physical harm.
  2. Get yourself and others to safety as quickly as possible.
  3. If possible, keep a line open to police until they arrive. If you cannot stay on the line, call 911 and the dispatcher will direct the police to you. The more information the police receive, the more likely they can bring a potentially violent situation to a safe conclusion.
Post Incident Response

When a violent incident occurs, many are affected: the victim, witnesses, bystanders, as well as friends, relatives, and co-workers of those involved in or witnessing the event.

To avoid long-term difficulties following a violent event (often called post-traumatic stress syndrome) certain follow-up responses and interventions must take place. For post-event counseling and intervention, call ASAP (752-2727) and consult Risk Management (757-8387).

Disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior can occur in the workplace. We do not expect you to experience such an incident, but hope this document will help you feel that you know what to do if one should occur.