Dealing with threats and/or threatening behavior—detecting them, evaluating them, and finding a way to address them—may be the single most important key to preventing violence. Any workplace violence strategy must include measures to detect, assess, and manage threats and behavior.

What Constitutes a Threat?

The legal dictionary defines a threat as “spoken or written words tending to intimidate or menace others.” But that leaves one important question; who determines when an intention to harm has been expressed?

A purely subjective determination—whatever makes someone feel threatened is a threat— is an uncertain guide for behavior, since different people can respond differently to the same words or acts. For these reasons, a workplace violence prevention program addressing threats that needs to include both a subjective and objective component. It must set reasonably explicit standards of behavior, so employees know how they are expected to act or not act. It must also make clear to employees that no one has a right to make anyone else feel threatened.

The definition of a threat for workplace conduct standards need not be the same as the definition of a threat as a criminal offense.

A sample definition could be “an inappropriate behavior, verbal or nonverbal communication, or an expression that would lead to the reasonable belief that an act has occurred or may occur which may lead to physical and/or psychological harm by the threatener, to others, or to property.”

Alternative: “Any verbal or physical conduct that threatens property or personal safety or that reasonably could be interpreted as an intent to cause harm.” Both definitions are a great start to setting a standard within the industry.


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