Chelmsford TUC

In Your Workplace

Violence & Harassment at Work

Violence in the workplace is, at long last, recognised as a major social problem. However, far too few employers are giving it the attention it deserves. Trade unionists cannot afford to wait - we need to take action now. For this reason we hope you will find this page helpful.
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The Health and Safety Executive defines work-related violence as:

"any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work".

We know that those most at risk work as police officers, social workers, probation officers, bar staff, security guards, service industry managers, nurses, medical practitioners, public transport workers, government administrators, welfare, community and youth workers.

Assaults on railway workers more than tripled between 1995 and 1998 and 70% of teachers believe that violence in schools is increasing. Indeed, no occupation is immune, and we should not ignore the fact that work-related violence includes verbal and mental abuse, harassment, bullying, threats and assaults by colleagues.

The figures are staggering: One in five workers is subject to a violent attack or abuse at work every year; many of these suffer repeated assaults. In 1998-99 recorded incidents under the Reporting of Injuries Regulations amounted to one fatality, 644 major injuries, and 4621 injuries that led to over 3 days off work. The scale of the problem is such that over 3.3 million work hours are lost per year, to say nothing of the physical and mental harm done to the people assaulted. For this reason both employers and trade unionists have an interest in eliminating violence from the workplace.

Although certain aspects of the law relating to workplace violence need to be improved, there are five key Health and Safety Acts which we can use to good effect

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)

This stipulates that employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, welfare and safety at work of their employees

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Under this Act employers must assess the risks to employees and make arrangements for their health and safety by effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review. The risks covered should, where appropriate, include the need to protect employees from exposure to potential violence.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

This says that employers must notify their enforcing authority in the event of an incident at work, to any employee, resulting in death, major injury or incapacity for normal work for three or more days. This includes any act of non-consensual physical violence done to a person at work.

Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (a) and The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (b)

Employers must inform and consult with employees in good time on matters relating to their health and safety. Employee representatives may make representations to their employer on matters affecting the health and safety of those they represent.

Of course, prevention is always better than cure, but, in the view of the TUC, employers tend to adopt an attitude that violence is unpredictable and therefore cannot be prevented. We believe that it is the duty of employers to consult and work with trade unions to:

 assess the risks of violence to their staff;

 take steps to prevent or minimise such violence or protect employees from it;

 ensure that, when violent attacks do occur, they are recorded, and the victims receive appropriate assistance.

If an attack takes place the employer should provide appropriate after-care for affected staff including:


 providing employees with opportunities to talk about what has happened;

Time Off Work

 employees may need time away from the workplace to recover. In some cases they may need special counselling;

Legal Help

In serious cases legal help may be appropriate, for example in claiming criminal injuries compensation; assistance may be needed in reporting the incident to the police transport home or to hospital;

Guidance and Training to other employees to help them react appropriately.

Has your company addressed violence at work?

Has it established a policy on workplace violence?

Has it carried out a risk assessment?

Does it regularly review the risk assessment?

Are there correct reporting procedures in place?

Has you been consulted?

Act today - tomorrow may be too late!

For information on domestic violence please go to our Domestic Violence - A Workplace Issue.

A Workplace Policy on Violence at Work

When you need to establish a workplace policy on violence at work it should include all incidents that could lead to death, major injury requiring medical assistance and minor injury requiring first aid or no medical aid.

It should also include threats and verbal abuse, even if no physical injury occurs. It is also important to remember that work-related violence is not limited to the actual workplace and can take place in the community, to and from work, in isolated areas or in the home of the employee.

The following definition on violence at work is used by some employers:

 The application of force, severe threats or serious abuse by members of the public towards people arising out of the course of their work whether or not they are on duty. This includes severe verbal abuse or threats where this is judged likely to turn into actual violence; serious or persistent harassment (including racial or sexual harassment); threats with a weapon; major or minor injuries; fatalities.

If you haven’t got a policy within your workplace, talk to your union representative, and take the appropriate action.


Not only is harassment unlawful, it threatens equality at work. It also undermines confidence and self-esteem, and employers have a responsibility to prevent it and to provide remedies when it occurs.

Flirtatious behaviour is sexual harassment if it is not wanted. Moreover, a single incident can be considered as harassment. The European Commission’s Code of Practice on Measures to Combat Sexual Harassment defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of men and women at work”.

Sexual harassment can take many forms including:

 Physical contact, ranging from unnecessary touching through to sexual assault or rape;

 Sexual advances, propositions or demands for sexual favours, unwanted or derogatory comments about dress and/or appearance;

 Suggestive comments, sexist language or jokes, leering and innuendo;

 Displaying offensive materials e.g. pornographic pictures or pin-ups.

Harassment against disabled people includes:

 Staring and/or uninvited touching;

 Disablist language, comments or jokes;

 Exclusion from workplace activities and social events;

 Speaking to others rather than the disabled person directly;

 Asking intimate questions about a person’s impairment;

 Making assumptions about disabled people e.g. that they do not have a social, sexual or private life;

 Physical abuse and intimidation.

For information on domestic violence please go to our page on Domestic Violence - A Workplace Issue.

 Trades Union Congress

 Workplace Bullying

 Workplace Violence - At the Office?