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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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The Incident

A supervisor reported to a Human Resources (HR) specialist that he recently heard from one of his employees (alleged victim) that another one of his employees (alleged perpetrator) has been intimidating him with his "in your face" behavior. The alleged perpetrator has stood over the alleged victim's desk in what he perceived as a menacing way, physically crowded him out in an elevator, and made menacing gestures. The supervisor stated that the alleged perpetrator was an average performer, somewhat of a loner, but there were no behavior problems that he was aware of until the employee came to him expressing his fear. He said that the employee who reported the situation said he did not want the supervisor to say anything to anyone, so the supervisor tried to observe the situation for a couple of days. When he didn't observe any of the behavior described, he spoke with the alleged victim again and told him he would consult with the Crisis Management Team.


In cases involving reports of intimidation, this agency's crisis response plan called for involvement of Human Resources (HR) and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) (with the clear understanding that they would Contact other resources as needed). The first thing the HR specialist did was to set up a meeting for the next day with the supervisor, an EAP counselor, and another HR specialist who was skilled in conflict resolution.

At that meeting, several options were discussed. One was to initiate an immediate investigation into the allegations, which would involve interviewing the alleged victim, any witnesses identified by the alleged victim, and the alleged perpetrator. Another suggestion offered by the EAP counselor was that, in view of the alleged victim's reluctance to speak up about it, they could arrange a training session for the entire office on conflict resolution (at which time the EAP counselor could observe the dynamics of the entire work group). The EAP counselor noted that conflict resolution classes were regularly scheduled at the agency. The supervisor also admitted that he was aware of a lot of tensions in the office and would like the EAP's assistance in resolving whatever was causing them.

After discussing the options, the supervisor and the team decided to try the conflict resolution training session before initiating an investigation. At the training session, during some of the exercises, it became clear that the alleged victim contributed significantly to the tension between the two employees. The alleged victim, in fact, seemed to contribute significantly to conflicts not only with the alleged perpetrator, but with his coworkers as well. The alleged perpetrator seemed to react assertively, but not inappropriately, to the alleged victim's attempts to annoy him.


Office tensions were reduced to minimum as a result of the training session and follow-up work by the Employee Assistance Program. The employee who initially reported the intimidation to his supervisor not only realized what he was doing to contribute to office tensions, but he also actively sought help to change his approach and began to conduct himself more effectively with his coworkers. He appreciated getting the situation resolved in a low-key way that did not cause him embarrassment and began to work cooperatively with the alleged perpetrator. The alleged perpetrator never learned about the original complaint, but he did learn from the training session more effective ways to conduct himself with his coworkers. This incident took place over a year ago, and the agency reports that both are productive team players.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. Do you agree with the agency's approach in this situation?

  2. Can you think of other situations that could be addressed effectively through an intervention with the work group?

  3. In what kinds of situations would this approach be counter-productive ?

  4. Can you envision a scenario where using the group conflict resolution session to get at any individualized problem might have a negative, rather than a positive, effect?

  5. Has your agency conducted employee training on such topics as conflict resolution, stress management, and dealing with hostile persons?