While your company may have a slew of policies in place, the first thing you need to know when someone threatens you at work is that you can’t ignore it. The occurrence of violence in society in general often is reflected in your workplace. It’s a reality that can lead to serious consequences. Follow the steps your company lays out for you, and whatever you do – do something.
Before you go reporting the issue to your superiors, define the actions you feel were threatening so you can clearly relate the experience. Threats can include bullying or stalking or outright verbal statements about what your fellow employee will do to you. (ref 1) Write down the exact words as soon as they happen so there’s no misunderstanding about what you’re reporting. A threat can come in person, in an email or by phone. Define the action and explain how it was delivered. Keep copies of anything you have in writing from the perpetrator of the threat.
You never know what’s behind a threat, so the safest course is to take it seriously and not do anything that could provoke the situation. The person making the threat may be joking or she may have some serious anger issues and is ready to explode. Remain calm and don’t try to argue with the person. (ref 2) If you respond with anger, you may just exacerbate the problem and put yourself at risk for violence. Don’t raise your voice, but calmly call for help either by picking up a phone or talking to someone else nearby. Walk away from the person making the threats until you feel safe enough to get help. Call the police if you feel an immediate threat. (ref 3)
Once you’ve documented the threat, report it immediately to your supervisor. (ref 2) Make sure others know about the situation until you can find a manager. Make sure the threat is taken seriously and reported to human resources and to others who can take some action to discipline the person or ask her to leave. Don’t worry about getting someone fired. Even though the person making the threats doesn’t appear prone to violence and you don’t actually feel unsafe, the threat may indicate a propensity for violence you’ve yet to see at work and must be taken seriously. (ref 3)
If you return to work the next day and find out the person was fired, you know that you were taken seriously and that management supports a no-tolerance policy for threats to coworkers. If, however, the person is still on the job, you may have to make additional reports up the chain of command, especially if you still feel unsafe. Continue to document any comments or other actions that you believe are inappropriate and threatening and ask to be reassigned. Report the incident to human resources. Ask to review the company policies regarding workplace threats to make sure your manager followed procedure. The person who threatened you may apologize and take her discipline with grace, at which point you can choose to forgive her, but continue to watch your back and document questionable remarks or actions that may constitute payback or continued harassment. Get a lawyer if the situation doesn’t get resolved. (ref 3)
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."