On August 20, 1986, Patrick H. Sherrill, a part-time letter carrier facing possible dismissal due to a troubled work history, walked into the Edmond, Oklahoma post office where he worked and shot fourteen people to death before killing himself. These killings—along with other similar events that occurred during the same period—brought the reality of workplace violence to the attention of the nation and marked the beginning of an increase in incidents of this nature that continues today.


Workplace violence takes numerous forms. It can be an actual act of physical violence against employees and/or employers, a threat of physical violence, or any type of harassment, intimidation, or menacing behavior in the workplace.

Workplace violence is on the rise and far more common than you might expect.

  • The Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Guideline report released by ASIS International (ASIS; http://www.asisonline.org/) in 2005 noted that Fortune 1000 companies responding to an annual survey conducted by Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations Inc. (Pinkerton) cited workplace violence as the number one security threat for businesses in six of the previous seven years.
  • According to an analysis conducted in 2004 by USA Today, twenty-five individuals are injured and one is killed per week on average as a result of workplace violence.
  • A 2005 national telephone survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (CAEPV; http://www.caepv.org/) found that 21 percent of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence, and 64 percent of these individuals indicated that their work performance was significantly impacted.
  • A 2005 national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS; http://www.bls.gov/) found that nearly 5 percent of the approximately 7.1 million private industry business establishments in the United States had a workplace violence incident occur in the twelve months prior to completing the survey. For the largest establishments in the survey (employing 1,000 or more workers), this number rose to almost 50 percent.

Categories of Workplace Violence

According to experts, workplace violence incidents fall into one of four categories.

TYPE 1—Violent acts by criminals who enter to commit robbery or another crime but have no other connection with the workplace.

TYPE 2—Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services.

TYPE 3—Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee.

TYPE 4—Violence committed in the workplace by someone who has a personal relationship with an employee but doesn’t work there (e.g., an abusive spouse or domestic partner).

(Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] Critical Incident Response Group [CIRG], Workplace Violence: Issues in Response)


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