Managing "Aggressive" Employee Behaviors

Nov 28, 2017 3:14:09 PM

Blog #3 of the series: Managing 4 Difficult Workplace Behaviors

What are Aggressive Behaviors?

Aggressive behaviors generally violate some kind of organizational policy. These behaviors include sexual and physical harassment, threats, intimidation, vandalism, theft, and verbal assaults. They also include threats, stalking and harassment delivered via electronic and social media. These behaviors are disturbing, can negatively impact the mental or emotional well-being of employees, and they can damage the culture of the workplace.

These are behaviors that can, given the right conditions, escalate to the realm of Dangerous – sometimes very quickly. It is important to take swift and immediate action as soon as the organization becomes aware of the problem. Keep in mind that a person who uses force on an inanimate object (like throwing a stapler across a room) can be just one step away from using force on a co-worker.

These behaviors create fear.

Aggressive behaviors create fear for co-workers, managers, and supervisors. HR professionals can be understandably unsure about how to proceed when these situations arise, for fear of causing the employee or the behavior to escalate. It’s vitally important for organizations to take steps to ensure that managers and HR are equipped to intervene effectively and quickly when these problematic behaviors occur.

How should you respond to these behaviors?

It is of utmost importance to be prepared when facing Aggressive behaviors.  To begin, you should be very familiar with which organizational policies and resources are available to address a variety of potentially difficult situations.  Additionally, you should be familiar with legal and HR protocols when investigating and intervening in reported Aggressive conduct.

You should know:

1. What are your organization’s workplace policies regarding conduct, harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, theft, internet use and workplace violence?
  • How do policies dictate for you to proceed?
  • What relevant legal issues do you need to be aware of for these policies?
  • What organizational/HR issues do you need to be aware of for these policies?

2. Who are your preferred outside resources?

  • Security
  • Private Investigator (PI)
  • EAP
  • Legal
  • Psychologist/Threat Assessment/Management Professional
  • Law Enforcement contacts
  • FFD (Fitness For Duty) Practitioners **

No one should go it alone.

Preparation in advance of a critical incident pays off significantly when these situations arise. Knowing who to call, and when, can go a long way in reducing anxiety and responding effectively and safely to these situations.

We can’t stress enough the importance of vetting outside consultants, such as mental health and security professionals and developing relationships with your legal counsel and local law enforcement. Also, it’s important to understand what your EAP provides and how to access those resources quickly. No HR professional should navigate through a potential crisis without a prepared list of reliable resources.

A timely response is critical.

It is important to respond immediately to any reports or observations of aggressive conduct. Reassure the reporting employee (or employees) that you appreciate their alerting you to their concerns, that you will take the report seriously. Let them also know that you will follow up according to your internal procedures and in accordance with relevant confidentiality laws.  

When an investigation is indicated, consider whether a leave of absence with pay is appropriate for the individual accused of the Aggressive conduct. We generally recommend this course of action to avoid adding financial stress for the individual during an already stressful time. Determine who will meet with the employee and any witnesses.

If this is a formal investigation, be sure to use a Private Investigator, Certified Threat Manager (CTM), employment attorney or other qualified professional to conduct the investigation and assess dangerousness, and be aware of any state or federal laws that would guide the investigative process.

When an employee is placed on a leave of absence, be sure he/she has one designated point of contact within the organization and is directed to contact that person only with questions or concerns unless otherwise specified. Also during the investigation, remember to suspend access to building facilities, key cards, controlled access points and computer servers until the outcome of the inquiry is complete.

Be sure to remind any witnesses that it is imperative they respect the confidential nature of the process, and not discuss the investigation.

Observe and respond if behavior escalates.

If it is determined that the employee has engaged in the conduct, but will remain employed with the organization under a PIP or other plan, carefully monitor for an escalation in the behavior, or any new behaviors which would be considered Disruptive, Aggressive or Dangerous.

Any escalation in current behavior or any new behaviors of concern should be addressed immediately. If it is determined that the employee is to be terminated, give careful consideration to how that termination will proceed, and consider a “soft landing” approach (i.e. severance, COBRA, outplacement, counseling through EAP).

For more extreme Aggressive behaviors, consider whether security and/or assistance from law enforcement will be needed during and following the termination for a period of time.

Coming up next…

The last in our series of blogs Managing Behaviors of Concern in the Workplace, where we will focus on the most serious of the behaviors profile in the series – the Dangerous behaviors.


Stay up to date with important information, tips and hints, and timely updates.

 Join Us!

Topics: WPV