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The USDA Handbook on
Workplace Violence
Prevention and

Workplace Violence
                                                       It's real...know what to do

Table of Contents
  . Introduction
1. What is Workplace Violence?
2. Responsibilities
3. Prevention of Workplace Violence
4. Identifying Potentially Violent Situations
5. Responding to Violent Incidents
6. Disclosure of Information
  . Resources


The USDA Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention and Response is a product of Secretary Dan Glickman’s Workplace Violence Steering Committee, chaired by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration and the Deputy Inspector General. It is intended to be an overview guide for all USDA employees that explains what workplace violence is and provides tools and resources for preventing or responding to workplace incidents. It does not establish policy or regulations on workplace violence but rather serves to educate employees on the issue.

This handbook is designed to be supplemented with agency-specific information dealing with situations and circumstances unique to the agency’s environment and mission. Due to the widely varying mission areas within USDA, individual agencies have their own mechanisms and operating plans for dealing with workplace violence situations, and they will provide them to their employees. Where appropriate, this handbook will refer you to that agency-specific information. Many excellent resource materials already exist on the subject of workplace violence, and some of those materials are noted in the reference section of this handbook.

While it is everyone’s responsibility to be alert for and to report potential workplace violence problems, supervisors and managers have added responsibilities for prevention, assessment, reporting, and response. This handbook does not address in detail those added responsibilities, since agencies will provide the specific training necessary for their own managers and supervisors.

Remember that it is USDA’s policy that every customer and employee be treated fairly and equitably, with dignity and respect. This policy applies not only to how you as an employee should act, but also to how you deserve to be treated by others. There is no room or tolerance for harassing, threatening, or violent behavior at USDA.

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1. What Is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, contractors, and other non-Federal employees.

A number of different actions in the work environment can trigger or cause workplace violence. It may even be the result of non-work-related situations such as domestic violence or “road rage.” Workplace violence can be inflicted by an abusive employee, a manager, supervisor, co-worker, customer, family member, or even a stranger. Whatever the cause or whoever the perpetrator, workplace violence is not to be accepted or tolerated.

However, there is no sure way to predict human behavior and, while there may be warning signs, there is no specific profile of a potentially dangerous individual. The best prevention comes from identifying any problems early and dealing with them. Each USDA agency has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place which serves as an excellent, confidential resource available to all employees to help them identify and deal with problems.

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2. Responsibilities

It is up to each employee to help make USDA a safe workplace for all of us. The expectation is that each employee will treat all other employees, as well as customers and potential customers of USDA’s programs, with dignity and respect. You can and should expect management to care about your safety and to provide as safe a working environment as possible by having preventive measures in place and, if necessary, by dealing immediately with threatening or potentially violent situations which occur.

Because USDA programs touch the lives of so many persons, you can expect at some point in your career to encounter individuals who don’t share USDA’s core ethic of fairness, dignity, and respect. There are appropriate and effective ways to deal with such persons to avoid or minimize the damage they seek to cause, and we all need to educate ourselves on those methods.

In addition, supervisors and managers have the obligation to deal with inappropriate behavior by their employees and customers, to provide employees with information and training to employees on workplace violence, and to put effective security measures in place.

The following section provides a more detailed description of the responsibilities of various persons or offices.


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3. Prevention of Workplace Violence

A sound prevention plan is the most important and, in the long run, the least costly portion of any agency’s workplace violence program. Your agency should have the following programs in place to help prevent workplace violence:

Pre-Employment Screening – An agency should determine, with the assistance of its servicing personnel and legal offices, the pre-employment screening techniques which should be utilized, such as interview questions, background and reference checks, and drug testing if it is appropriate for the position under consideration and consistent with Federal laws and regulations.

Security – Maintaining a safe work place is part of any good prevention program. There are a variety of ways to help ensure safety, such as employee photo identification badges, guard services, and individual coded key cards for access to buildings and grounds. Different measures may be appropriate for different locations and work settings.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – This program is most effective in resolving disputes when a conflict has been identified early and one of the following techniques is used: ombudspersons, facilitation, mediation, interest-based problem solving, and peer review.

Threat Assessment Team – This interdisciplinary team will work with management to assess the potential for workplace violence and, as appropriate, develop and execute a plan to address it.

Agency Work and Family Life Programs (such as flexiplace, child care, maxiflex, etc.) – An agency should identify and modify, if possible, self-imposed policies and procedures which cause negative effects on the workplace climate.

Prevention of Workplace Violence:

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4. Identifying Potentially Violent Situations

If you ever have concerns about a situation which may turn violent, alert your supervisor immediately and follow the specific reporting procedures provided by your agency. It is better to err on the side of safety than to risk having a situation escalate.

The following are warning indicators of potential workplace violence:

Once you have noticed a subordinate, co-worker, or customer showing any signs of the above indicators, you should take the following steps:

It is very important to respond appropriately, i.e., not to overreact but also not to ignore a situation. Sometimes that may be difficult to determine. Managers should discuss the situation with expert resource staff to get help in determining how best to handle the situation.

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5. Responding to Violent Incidents

No matter how effective agencies' policies and plans are in detecting and preventing incidents, there are no guarantees against workplace violence. Even the most responsive employers face this issue. When a violent incident does occur, it is essential the response be timely, appropriate to the situation, and carried out with the recognition that employees are traumatized and that the incident’s aftermath has just begun.

Because work situations and environments vary so greatly from agency to agency within USDA, it is up to each individual agency to develop and publicize the specific procedures for responding to workplace violence incidents in each location.

Responding to Violent Incidents:

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6. Disclosure of Information

Employee Assistance Program
EAP counselors are prohibited by the confidentiality regulations (42 CFR Part 2) from disclosing information obtained from employees without their written consent. An exception to this prohibition however, is if an employee specifically threatens another person. In that case, the counselor generally will advise the employee that the information will be reported to appropriate authorities, regardless of whether a written consent is provided.

Threat Assessment Team
Information obtained during a threat assessment will be released to individuals needing the information in order to conduct an appropriate investigation into the situation, protect agency personnel, or confront the person making the threat. Typically, this includes security staff, employee relations staff, medical personnel as necessary, and management/supervisory personnel.

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing
Normally, this type of debriefing is conducted by EAP counselors or other mental health professionals. Information shared in the debriefing should remain confidential among the group present. This allows the employees a chance to recover from severe stress, talk about what they have gone through, and compare their reactions with those of others.

Dealing With the Media
Questions from the news media relating to incidents of workplace violence should be forwarded to the appropriate public affairs staff for your office.

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  1. "Dealing with Workplace Violence, a Guide for Agency Planners," Office of Personnel Management.
  2. "Combating Workplace Violence, Guidelines for Employees and Law Enforcement," Defense Personnel Security Research Center, Private Sector Liaison Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
  3. "Violence in the Workplace, Intervention Handbook," Department of the Air Force.
  4. USDA Workplace Violence Policy.
  5. “Preventing Workplace Violence,” handbook of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
  6. “Helping the Employee Recover from the Trauma of Workplace Violence,” Kenneth Wolf et al., EAP Digest.
  7. “What You Should Know About Coping With Threats and Violence in the Federal Workplace,” Federal Protective Service, General Services Administration.


  1. General Services Administration -
  2. Office of Personnel Management -
  3. Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse -
  4. Workplace Solutions -

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (such as Braille, large print, audiotape) should contact USDA’s Target Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).
To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326- W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

December 1998

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