Verbal and physical threats

By U.S. ArmyMay 1, 2019

Todd P. Gordon, Chief of Physical Security

Directorate of Operations and Security

Eisenhower Army Medical Center

Many people have threatened someone else verbally at one point or another. Parents tell their children to be quiet or else. Husbands and wives threaten to leave a relationship.

Some verbal threats are different. These types of threats are menacing and criminal in nature. But when threats enter the workplace, it's a whole new ball game. There are jobs at stake, potential lawsuits to ponder, and two sides to every story. Overreact and you could lose a good worker (or a better lawsuit); under-react and you could lose lives.

The most serious verbal threats are those that are genuine, credible and directed specifically at someone in the workplace. However, evaluating the seriousness of even the most direct threats requires something of a judgment call. For example, threats accompanied by specific plans about how the employee will carry them out are serious. Obviously, for an employee to provide that kind of detail suggests that this is not a spontaneous remark; this is someone who has thought this through. Similarly, threats of violence that are directed at, or include, members of the intended victim's family are not the kinds of statements you would expect from a generally even-keeled worker.

Of course, it's not only what workers say but how they say it. Threatening gestures add power and credibility to verbal threats. Telling a coworker, "I'm going to bash your head in" is going to feel a lot more threatening when uttered by someone waving a hammer. It's also important to consider the worker's track record; courts typically give normally well-behaved workers the benefit of the doubt while workers with a history of conflict or violence get less slack for a threatening comment. The same should be true of employers.

When in doubt, it's always better to take a threat seriously than not. No matter what the circumstances (family problems, history of mental illness), employers are not required to tolerate threats in the workplace and, in fact, can be held liable if they do. Practically, this means taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure employees are safe. When immediate termination isn't warranted, employers still have a lot of leeway in terms of ensuring a safe work environment.

An effective response can ensure that the violence ends there. Employees don't report workplace threats until it's too late. Employees complain that managers, security and HR professionals, don't take their reports seriously. One way to bridge this gap is to educate your workforce, not only on what behaviors should raise concern, but what information will be useful in terms of deciding upon the appropriate response. As a minimum, threatened employees should report:

• When, where and at what time the employee received the threat

• What was the exact wording, if possible, of the threat?

• What was his/her initial response to the threat?

• Have there ever previous incidents with the threatening employee?

• Has the employee ever made any other threats?

A verbal threat becomes a criminal threat under the following circumstances and become assault:

• The threat indicates that another will suffer imminent physical harm

• The threat is directed toward a witness that's scheduled to testify in a court action

• The threat is specific

• There is evidence the threat will be carried out

• There is evidence the threat made is genuine

• The threat alters the lifestyle or quality of life of the threatened person


These definitions are provided for use in the context of this summarization and should not be construed as legal definitions.

Assault: To attack someone physically or verbally, causing bodily or emotional injury, pain, and/or distress. This might involve the use of a weapon, and includes actions such as hitting, punching, pushing, poking or kicking.

Intimidating or Harassing Behavior: Threats or other conduct which in any way create a hostile environment, impair agency operations; or frighten, alarm, or inhibit others. Psychological intimidation or harassment includes making statements which are false, malicious, disparaging, derogatory, rude, disrespectful, abusive, obnoxious, insubordinate or which have the intent to hurt others' reputations. Physical intimidation or harassment may include holding, impeding or blocking movement, following, stalking, touching, or any other inappropriate physical contact or advances. Harassment in the workplace or anywhere else includes any pattern of physical and/or non-physical behaviors that (a) are intended to cause fear, humiliation, or annoyance, (b) offend or degrade, (c) create a hostile environment or (d) reflect discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority, or power over an individual or group based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, or mental or physical disability.

Sabotage: An act to destroy, damage, incapacitate, or contaminate property, equipment, supplies or data (e.g., hard copy files and records, computerized information, etc.); to cause injury, illness, or death to humans; or to interfere with, disrupt, cripple, disable, or hinder the normal operations or missions of the organization.

Stalking: A malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another person with intent to place that person in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death to him/herself or to a third party.

Threat: A threat to harm others is any written, verbal, physical or electronically transmitted expression of intent to physically injure or harm someone else. A threat may be communicated directly to the intended victim or communicated to a third party. Any oral or written expression or gesture that could be interpreted by a reasonable person as conveying an intent to cause physical harm to persons or property. Statements such as, "I'll get him" or "She won't get away with this" could be examples of threatening expressions depending on the facts and circumstances involved.

Workplace Violence: An action (verbal, written, or physical aggression) which is intended to control or cause, or is capable of causing, death or serious bodily injury to oneself or others, or damage to property. Workplace violence includes abusive behavior toward authority, intimidating or harassing behavior and threats.

Bullying; Bullying is the use of coercion to obtain control over another person or to be habitually cruel to another person. Bullying involves an intentional, persistent or repeated pattern of committing or willfully tolerating physical and non-physical behaviors that are intended to cause fear, humiliation, or physical harm in an attempt to socially exclude, diminish, or isolate another person. Bullying can occur through written, verbal or electronically transmitted expression or by means of a physical act or gesture.

EAMC's Courtesy Pledge:

We create the environment where staff is inspired and empowered to deliver 5-Star care to fellow employees and patients with compassion, honesty and integrity.

• We pledge to cordially greet each teammate, patient and visitor; ensuring all have a sense of being "home"

• We pledge to treat everyone with courtesy, dignity, and respect.

• We pledge to provide exceptional, high quality, compassionate care.

• We pledge to accept and respond in a timely manner to every correspondence in written, verbal, or electronic form.

• We pledge to provide personalized assistance when doing so does not compromise care to others.


• Determined to provide high quality, complex, patient-centered healthcare services

• Deliver readiness through sustained medical education and multidisciplinary care

• Enthusiastically perform our daily duties while working with the best health care partners

• Attend to the needs of our patients, their Families, and each other

• Motivated to excel in our work ethic, drive innovation, and continue education in our chosen professions

• Care for our community, each other, and the mission

Reporting threats:

If you are injured seek medical care immediately. If you feel a crime has been committed, call EAMC Security and or Military Police:

• EAMC Security 787-9911 or 787-3945

• Military Police 911 for emergency or 791-4380.

If threats have been happening in your workplace inform your supervisor, your director, the commander or call security.

-- References

• Department of Labor: Workplace Violence

• Department of Home Land Security: Workplace Violence

• Business Know How: Verbal abuse and Workplace Violence by Joni E. Johnston

• EAMC Regulation 190-1

--- 30 ---