Most violence in the federal workplace is not of a physical nature and agencies need to prepare and respond to behavior such as bullying, gestures and verbal threats as well as to incidents such as assault, homicide and acts of terrorism, according to new government-wide guidance.

“Most acts of federal workplace violence occur as some form of verbal or non-verbal threat, bullying, harassment, intimidation, or non-fatal physical assault,” it says, noting a 2012 report by the MSPB showing that of federal employees who say they have observed violence in their workplaces it was most often by current or former employees or customers of the agency.


It said that anxiety about serious incidents such as shootings “can stand in the way of identifying more significant risk factors such as poorly lit parking lots or gaps in employee training programs. This anxiety can make it more difficult to cope with one of the most common workplace violence problems: the employee whose language or behavior frightens coworkers,” it says. While most threats do not lead to a violent act, “acts of physical violence might start with behavioral risk indicators. Agencies must take all reported safety concerns seriously and respond appropriately.”

The guidance, published by an interagency security committee headed by DHS, was issued before last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that did not involve federal workplaces.

It says that federal employees most at risk of becoming victims of violence in a workplace are those who exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods, or services; work alone or in small groups during late night or early morning hours; work in high-crime areas; or work in community settings and homes experiencing extensive contact with the public.