Workplace Violence Rates Higher for Public Employees

By Roy Maurer Apr 25, 2013
The average annual rate of workplace violence perpetrated against government (local, county, state and federal) employees in 2011 was three times greater than for workers in the private sector, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report, Workplace Violence Against Government Employees, 1994-2011, found that public-sector employees experienced 18 nonfatal violent attacks in the workplace per 1,000 employees compared with five attacks in the private sector.

The higher rate of workplace violence in the public sector was due in part to the high rate of violence against law enforcement or security employees, which accounted for about 56 percent of workplace violence against government workers from 2002 through 2011.

Excluding law enforcement and security employees, the 2011 rate of workplace violence against government workers was still higher: Non-law-enforcement government employees reported nine violent attacks per 1,000 employees, compared with five in the private sector.

Workplace violence has declined substantially in both the public and private sectors. From 1994 to 2011 the annual average rate of violence against government employees decreased by 82 percent, while it dropped by 72 percent in the private sector. Most of the decline (76 percent) occurred between 1994 and 2002, when the rate of workplace violence against government employees dropped from 99 violent attacks to 24.

In contrast to incidents of workplace assaults, homicide rates are higher in private-sector workplaces than in government facilities. Specifically, in 2011 the report found that there were 367 workplace homicides in the private sector, compared with 90 homicides at government worksites.

From 1993 to 2002, workplace homicides declined substantially in both the public sector (33 percent) and private sector (44 percent).

Then government employees experienced a turnaround: From 2003 to 2010 there was a 29 percent increase in the number of government workers who were murdered (from 71 in 2003 to 86 in 2010). During the same period, homicides in private-sector workplaces decreased by 28 percent (from 560 in 2003 to 432 in 2010).

Among the report’s other findings from 2002 to 2011 are:

  • Serious violent crime (rape, sexual assault, robbery or aggravated assault) accounted for a larger percentage of workplace violence against private-sector employees (25 percent) than government employees (15 percent). However, government workers experienced simple assault three times more than did those in the private sector.
  • Although government employees accounted for 16 percent of all employed people age 16 and older, they made up 41 percent of victims of nonfatal workplace violence.
  • Among government workers, males (68 percent) were more likely than females (38 percent) to be attacked by a stranger during a violent incident in the workplace.
  • Government employees (12 percent) were less likely than private-sector workers (20 percent) to be confronted by an offender with a weapon during an incident.
  • Ninety-six percent of workplace-violence victims in the public sector were state, county and local government employees, who made up 81 percent of the total government workforce.

Findings on nonfatal violence against government employees in the workplace were based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey. Findings on workplace homicides were based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.​


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