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Physical or psychological violence, including spousal, family and sexual violence

In all sectors of activity, workers may face violence in the course of their work. There are two types of workplace violence:

  • Internal violence : Internal violence occurs among staff members from all hierarchical levels in the same organization, including managers.
  • External violence : External violence can occur between workers and any other person in the workplace who does not have an employment relationship with the company, such as a client, patient, student or supplier. Violence may arise from the nature of the workplace, type of work or circumstances of work.

Different forms of violence

  • Physical: use of force against a person, assault, property damage
  • Verbal: insults, shouting, threats
  • Psychological: offensive and demeaning remarks, rumours
  • Symbolic: aggressive or threatening actions expressing intent to injure or harm, inappropriate or degrading attitudes
  • Sexual: touching, rape

Psychological or sexual harassment and physical or psychological violence, including spousal, family and sexual violence, can occur in the workplace. Any form of violence must be reported, as it can adversely affect the targeted person’s physical or psychological well-being.

Factors that can increase the risk of workplace violence

Some factors are known to increase the risk of workplace violence, such as:

  • handling cash, valuables or medication
  • inspecting or enforcing regulations
  • providing services, training, health care
  • working with unstable people
  • working in places where alcohol is served
  • working alone or with just a few people or in places where there are few people around
  • community work and home care services
  • mobile workplaces (taxi, public transit)
  • working in times of intense organizational change (downsizing, strike)
Obligations and responsibilities of employers and workers

Employers and workers must prevent risks of workplace violence:


  • Develop and implement a policy against psychological or sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Use methods and techniques to identify, correct and control risks of workplace violence that may arise in the company
  • Ensure that the organization of work and the work methods and techniques used are safe and protect the health of workers.
  • Provide a safe working environment for workers (controlled access, camera surveillance, emergency telephones, alarm buttons, whistles).
  • Instruct, train and supervise workers on the risks of violence associated with their work.


  • Take the necessary measures to protect their health, safety and physical well-being and those of other people in or near the workplace.
  • Participate in the identification, correction and control of workplace violence risks.
  • Use the methods and techniques put in place in the company.
Preventive measures

To ensure the health and safety of workers, various preventive measures appropriate to the clientele should be implemented, such as:

  • Develop and implement a policy against violence that lists the forms of violence, mentions the non-tolerance of violent behaviour, describes expected behaviours, identifies the people concerned and the roles and responsibilities of all.
  • Establish a violence prevention program.
  • Define a procedure for safe intervention during a crisis situation.
  • Train workers on obligations, the preventive measures put in place and how to respond to a situation of violence.
  • Investigate and analyze an incident of violence or a situation that could lead to an accident.
  • Establish support measures (post-incident review, employee assistance program, return-to-work measures).

Specific measures by sector

Retail trade

Workers in convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, shops and big box stores are more likely to be at risk of assault and armed threats, such as robbery. This type of theft usually involves the use of violence or threats.

To ensure the safety of workers, employers can take various steps to prevent these situations, such as:

  • clear windows to maximize visibility inside
  • organize work safely
  • train workers to respond safely to a robbery

At all times, in a situation of violence

  • Stay calm and polite
  • Do not intervene physically
  • Call 911
  • Make a written report of the event

During a robbery

  • Follow the thief's instructions
  • Stay calm and cooperate
  • Do not talk to or upset the thief
  • Explain any gestures or movements you make and do not make any sudden movements;
  • Do not intervene physically
  • Do not try to stop the thief
  • Do not activate the alarm system unless it is silent, is not visible and you can do so safely
  • Give the thief what they ask for
  • Observe the thief so that you can report the information later
  • Never follow the thief

After a robbery

  • Lock the doors
  • Do not touch anything
  • Call 911
  • Note any relevant information
  • Do not discuss the amount stolen with people who are not concerned
  • Consult a health professional, if necessary
Health care and social services

Health care and social service workers, such as nurses, social workers and specialist educators, may have regular contact with distressed or aggressive clients for a variety of reasons. Physical or mental health problems, cognitive impairment, alcohol, drug or medication intoxication can lead to violence and aggression.

For these workers, it is important to recognize the warning signs of a violent episode and to apply intervention measures to quickly defuse a situation that could get out of hand and avoid physical contact.

The Association paritaire pour la santé et la sécurité du travail du secteur affaires sociales (ASSTSAS)provides extensive and relevant documentation on the prevention of assault and violence.