The Potential for Increased Workplace Violence in the Wake of COVID-19

As the world continues to self-isolate, the unfortunate, but all-too-common concern of workplace violence has taken a backseat in the general public’s mind. As millions of Americans find themselves out of work or on the front lines of the pandemic, the pressures of COVID-19 have many businesses preparing for the worst. Our friends at McGowan Program Administrators have identified an increase in the purchase Active Shooter/Workplace Violence policies as tensions continue to grow as a result of the COVID-19 health and economic concerns.

Stress & Fear Can Create Chaos

We are undoubtedly experiencing an unprecedented circumstance in modern history. Not only are 30+ million Americans out of work, but issues like food shortages due to interrupted supply chains are leaving society reeling. Fights among shoppers at big box store like Costco and Sam’s Club have been widely reported, while front-line staff are experiencing abuse and intimidation while working under sometimes exhausting conditions. This abuse includes threats and verbal abuse from customers due to social distancing rules. There have also even been cases of what has been considered, terrorism— for example, when a Wegmans shopper in New Jersey claiming to have COVID-19, intentionally coughed on a store employee.

Retail storefronts aren’t the only places under duress. Fear of COVID-19 has sparked prison riots and worker’s strikes worldwide. Prison populations have seen a significant number of COVID-19 cases, making a harsh environment even more difficult in these times.

Workers at places such as Amazon and Instacart have begun to plan and stage protests in response to what they claim are inadequate measures by their employers to protect them. While these protests don’t directly point to violence, it only underscores the fear and chaos the pandemic has put on the world’s workforce.

The Impact of Layoffs and a Furloughed Workforce

An additional element to the threat of workplace violence in the age of COVID-19 is the psychological effect layoffs and furloughs has on employees. While not much is known how the effects of layoffs will take shape once offices return to work, many workers will experience some form of psychological trauma following a layoff.

A recent article from the BBC equated the loss of a job to the loss of a family member or friend. The emotional trajectory “can include any of the stages of grief, which run from shock and denial, through to anger and bargaining, and eventually to acceptance and hope.” These are under normal circumstances.

A study from Sage Journal shows that people who suffered financial, housing and unemployment hardship during the Great Depression were much more vulnerable to mental illness. Much like the Great Depression, this point in history only magnifies the stress level of the general public.

As emotional distress due to COVID-19 continues to grow, it is important to be aware of the mental health problems job loss could bring. With these heightened tensions, it is important to remain alert and have a plan in place to protect your workplace.

Protecting the Workplace

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, tensions may continue to rise. It is imperative to be prepared for workplace violence in order to create the safest possible environment for workers and customers alike. A list by McGowan highlights the key types of workplace violence businesses should be prepared for:


Protecting your business and its employees and customers takes precedence under normal circumstances, but is paramount during these difficult times. Having an effective risk management strategy in place to prevent and address workplace violence is critical. In the event the unexpected and unimaginable were to happen, your organization should be prepared with an active shooter/workplace violence policy. Talk to your trusted RCM&D advisor today about how your organization and its employees can be better prepared and better protected.