Workplace bullying is a global concern. Almost half of all American employees have been affected by this phenomenon. Surprisingly, 72 percent of employers encourage, defend or deny it. This problem is also common in the UK, affecting nearly one-third of workers.

The question is: what can managers do if an employee threatens another employee? Should they fire the bully, contact law enforcement officials or take disciplinary action? It depends on the severity of the threat.

The Impact of Workplace Bullying

More than 60.3 million Americans are bullied in the workplace. Women and minorities are particularly vulnerable. Yet, nearly half of employers don't take this issue seriously; over 25 percent of them do nothing about it. Only six percent punish the bully.

There is no "official" definition of workplace bullying. This kind of behavior can take many forms, including:

  • Using words or actions that embarrass others
  • Physically assaulting or threatening the staff members
  • Swearing or shouting at other employees
  • Making offensive jokes repeatedly
  • Mistreating one or more employees because of their age, gender, nationality or physical attributes

If an employee threatens another employee, that's bullying. This conduct is subtler than schoolyard bullying but can affect team morale and performance as well as the organization as a whole. It has a negative impact on employees, leading to anxiety and stress, diminished productivity, poor sleep, high blood pressure, depression, low self-esteem and absenteeism. Companies that allow this kind of behavior experience higher turnover rates and decreased overall performance.

Handling Employees Who Make Threats

As a manager or business owner, you're directly responsible for employees' mental and physical well-being. If someone threatens to kill you at work or makes threats to others in the workplace, it's your job to handle the situation. Failure to do so can result in conflicts, affect your reputation or lead to costly lawsuits. Workplace bullying reflects badly on your business and can hurt your bottom line.

It's not uncommon for abusive employees to get fired for workplace violence. The law allows you to fire workers for misconduct. Furthermore, you have the right and responsibility to call security to remove them from the premises.

In 2015, an employee at a corporation in Oregon got fired for threatening a coworker and his superiors multiple times, saying that he was going to kill them with a gun. In his lawsuit, he claimed that he was discriminated because of his disability. The court, however, dismissed his claims. There are several other cases where employees were fired for workplace violence, which shows that managers the right to take disciplinary action and terminate a worker's employment if necessary.

How to Combat Abusive Behavior

The best thing you can do as a manager is to prevent bullying and abusive behavior in the first place. Implement a policy that defines this kind of conduct and communicates zero tolerance toward it. Be clear about what bullying is, how to prevent it and what measures you'll take against it. State what will happen if an employee threatens another employee or commits acts of violence in the workplace.

Take employees' complaints seriously. If someone reports abusive behavior, it's your responsibility to investigate thoroughly. Conduct anonymous surveys and arrange one-on-one meetings with those involved and their colleagues. In case you're dealing with a minor incident, tell the person that his behavior will not be tolerated and that you'll take disciplinary action; record the event and keep copies of any emails or letters received from the parties involved.

Encourage your staff to document and report workplace bullying, threats and other forms of misconduct. Develop and implement preventive measures. Provide clear examples of misconduct and their consequences. If someone threatens to kill you at work, contact the police and address the situation immediately.