Horrible Bosses: Workplace violence in the real world

Posted on by Dan Hartley, EdD

Horrible bosses. If you’ve had one, hopefully they were not as bad as those portrayed by Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Colin Farrell in the newly released movie of the same name. While the plot and characters are exaggerated and the comic elements may not be to everyone’s taste, the movie highlights the very real issues of work stress and violence. Each week in the United States, an average of 33,000 workers are assaulted on the job and 14 are murdered. By and large, robbery-related factors account for the toll of homicide at work. The situations portrayed in the movie are not typical—worker-on-worker (or boss) violence accounts for only about 8% of workplace homicides. More than half of all workplace homicides occur in retail or service settings such as conveniences stores, taxicab services, and gas stations with the majority of these homicides occurring during a robbery.

While we don’t want to throw a wet blanket on a summer blockbuster, here are some real-world alternatives to “offing the boss” for the characters in the movie.

 Management candidate Nick (Jason Bateman) has been logging 12-hour days and eating everything his twisted supervisor Harken (Kevin Spacey) dishes out, toward the promise of a well-earned promotion. But now he knows that’s never going to happen.*

Providing employees with training in nonviolent response and conflict resolution is believed to reduce the risk that volatile situations will escalate to physical violence. In this example, such training could benefit both boss and employee.Information on workplace stress can be found on the NIOSH Stress at Work topic page.

Dental assistant Dale (Charlie Day) has been struggling to maintain his self-respect against the relentless X-rated advances of Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), when she suddenly turns up the heat.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Charges of sexual harassment can be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Accountant Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) has just learned that his company’s corrupt new owner, Pellit (Colin Farrell), is not only bent on ruining his career but plans to funnel toxic waste into an unsuspecting population. 

The Whistleblower Protection Program prohibits employers from firing or in any manner retaliating against any employee for reporting violations of environmental, workplace safety, financial reform and various other laws.

These recommendations are to the fictitious situations presented in the movie. There is not one solution to workplace violence as the risk factors in each industry are different. In the taxicab industry, installing partitions and cameras have helped reduce the number of taxicab driver homicides. In New York City, armed robberies in taxicabs are down from 2500 per month to between 200 and 300 hundred per month and murders are down from 25 per year to 1 or 2 per year.In convenience stores and gas stations measures such as using locked drop safes, keeping small amounts of cash on hand, and posting signs to this effect are used to deter robbery and thus homicide. Visibility, lighting and creating distance between workers and customers and patients can also act as a deterrent to violence in retail and healthcare. Nonfatal violence in the healthcare industry can be reduced by conducting a workplace security analysis and implementing appropriate environmental (e.g., arrange furniture to prevent entrapment of staff), administrative, (e.g., adopt measures to decrease waiting time), and behavioral (e.g., train employees not to carry keys, pens or other items that could be used as weapons) prevention measures

NIOSH and its partners are part of a broad-based initiative to reduce the incidence of occupational violence in this country. NIOSH conducts, funds, and publishes research on risk factors and prevention strategies related to workplace violence. The NIOSH Workplace Violence topic page contains information on NIOSH research as well as links to external research programs, statistical reports, and public and private initiatives to address the problems of workplace violence. 

We would like to hear from you. Has your workplace implemented violence prevention strategies? Are they working? 

Dan Hartley, EdD

Dr. Hartley is the NIOSH Workplace Violence Prevention Coordinator in the Division of Safety Research. 

*Film synopsis from Warnerbros.com 

Posted on by Dan Hartley, EdD

17 comments on “Horrible Bosses: Workplace violence in the real world”

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    What a fun way to introduce a very serious subject! Perhaps not as serious as zombie invasion…

    NIOSH has really been working to create relevant, relatable discussions. Keep up the good work!

    Excellent comments and possible solutions to work place issues. How about when you have been offered a job and kept waiting for an endless period of time with claims of reference checks but not really giving you any conclusion knowing that you declined other offers?

    Also, how about bosses who demand sexual favors from employees and then refuse to pay allowances, commissions and even wages owed employee because employee shunned and discontinued relations with them. On official paper, they claimed work submitted was either substandard or that employee could not get along with other staff.

    How would one handle that to obtain monies owed and for justice to persevere???

    I think a very interesting and well documented that tells a reality that unfortunately there is little talk. The figures in this article are amazing, 33,000 people are assaulted each week so many. Sure insults and mobing many more people who suffer some form of intimidation in your company. A social problem.
    Roberta of finanziamenti e prestiti INPDAP

    Not so much a comment on workplace violence prevention strategies at my workplace (although training is required for all contractors and employees)…

    I have to second Laura Kauth, ‘What a fun way to introduce a very serious subject.’ I can see the film scenario/possible solution frame translating really well into a $25,000 Safety Pyramid-style game for the Youth @ Work: Talking Safety curriculum. Showing relevant, popular film clips instead of reading out a scenario, and having students respond about ways to eliminate or respond to the hazards presented as an interactive way of processing what they just learned.

    In reference to Dr Modupe AinaAkinpelu, comments about wages, commission and expenses owed for work done-many states have workers rights laws concerning this issue. Civil lawsuits must be filed, and documentation that the work was done is required in most cases. Penalties can also be imposed, in La., based on the period of time between: the time work was done and payment made. This can range up to and including original wages and (penalty) up to 4 months wages. The law states that if the employee is terminated, payment for earnings must be made within 2 weeks.

    As always, consult a lawyer or lawyer forum on the web for advice on local laws.

    This is a good topic about work place violence, worker on worker violence can be understated and not reported. Many workers feel used and disrespected at work, or get upset about raises, promotions or other perks that they fell they deserve more than another worker(favoritism). This perception of the problem may be short term or last for a long time. In some cases, deadly results can occur.

    This is a social and business problem that should be addressed through proper channels and education within management is the key.

    its a heidenistic…ingracious disfigurement of human dignity….and an autraucity especially to women …who are very capable of performing any job a man can….and maybe with more savy and competance. im truly empathetic and irrate over your work environment and horrific situation.

    May God give you His solution and strength.

    I love how you well-written and entertaining your article is. I’d have to agree with everything you said. The people in your workplace can make or break it for you. I have one co-worker who was bullied by our boss (for whatever reason I don’t know) and the best thing that the co-worker was able to do is send out anonymous hate mails through this site called ihatemycoworker.com. It’s sad really.

    I have to say the Movie “Horrible Bosses” was hilarious and a good laugh, but when you really think about it – these type of situations actually really happen in the real world. Not exactly the way the movie went but there are a lot of horrible bosses out there and a lot of employees thought at least once to get rid of their annoying boss.

    You have put well together the facts of the movie and what really happens in the real world behind cameras.

    Thank God I am able to download films legally and analyze movies like this one. Even thou is funny, it actually makes you realize many facts about an ordinary life.

    Thanks for sharing this great post/topic.

    great work!

    The first approach when I read the title was: Companies have to understand that human resources are the basis of profit. But when I read the article I was chocked to say the least…
    How can this be possible?…

    Good evening everyone,
    Allow me to add my two cents, I was subjected to workplace bullying for 3 years while I was working as a Nursing Assistant at one of the Best Hospital in NYC, I don’t wish that experience on my worse enemy. Instead of being bitter I’ve created this website to help others deal with the horrible experience.
    Anyone who need support from someone who’ve been through the ordeal-feel free to contact me-I’ll teach them the techniques I’ve utilized to keep my sanity intact .

    I also have had a bully boss for ( 3 YEARS ). After so many complaints, not only to her boss, but to her boss’s boss, EAP, HR..EVEN to .my therapist, my many doctor’s, whom witness my aftermath…I have been repeatedly been falsely accused and learned 3 years ago, I DO SAVE MY COPIES, I forward to myself’s personal email. I have been assigned a new boss after HAVING to endure being harassed for a total of 3 years. After I reported my 1st first complaint to HR, NOTHING CHANGED, but I had to… and “I” DID change, I’m doing my part by following Company policy, all Company guidelines and after PROUDLY, BUT THE CLICK IN MANAGEMENT is NOT..!!! I am still working for the same company, my job. And at the time I got her as my boss, I’d already been employed for over 18 years, with NO other previous problems what so-ever. So when I was appointed her as my Stupidvisor, for the very first time, ever,…no other, none others of my boss’s abusing me, she was assigned to me for the VERY FIRST TIME IN 18 YEARS, I NOW am still employed by the strand off my holey pants, that are beyond wore out, and now 3 years later, I’ve been with the same Company for ( 21 YEARS NOW)…..!!!!! Every 4 months our office employees bid for a new shift, and a new Supervisor can automatically , RANDOMLY .. be assigned to each Agent in our Call Center for an Airline. NOW… even though I had officially reported my complaint against her in April 2011, I had to pull my stringy holey worn out britches back up, to call HEADQUARTERS, HR outside of the (RING) of local management, and they after hearing my story asked me if I had proof, any copies I would provide them of what has happened to me for over a 3 year endurance, of being be-littled, humiliating me, LYING to me, FALSELY ACCUSING ME of things I DID NOT DO, and said “YES” I DO have copies, and so do you, they are in my employee file when I filed my first harassment complaint against her April 2011, I mailed over 12 inches thickening, of my copies ( CERTIFIED MAIL-EXPRESS-) by US POST MASTER…!! Then HR’s comment was..” I DO NOT SEE THEM can you provide me a copy? now this is from my HR Headquarter’s, and my LOCAL OFFICE looking at my personal employee file, and he says he does NOT, I REPEAT… DOES NOT EVEN HAVE THEM… I HAD ADVISED him that I SPENT OVER 2 WEEKS OF MY PAID VACATION WEEK DAYS, FOR 14-16 HOURS A DAY..!!!! TO PROVIDE THEM to YOU!. I am NOT going to do it again, nor feel I should have to provide something that I ALREADY HAVE that should show, already and be in my file, and be documented, and currently available to Management, especially HR that I files a FORMAL COMPLAINT over 1 and a half years ago. They are now looking for it….GOOD THING WE MERGED WITH ANOTHER AIRLINE.. BECAUSE WE VOTED AND NOW ARE A UNION… AND IF IT WAS’NT FOR ME NOW WORKING FOR A COMPANY THAT HAS A UNION…. I WOULD NOT BE HERE.. LIKE MANY OTHER AGENTS WHO WERE FORCED, COURSED TO LEAVE.
    I Stay strong, And KEEP SUBLIMINAL thoughts going continuously.

    From the Strand of my PANTS

    My boss has me working in a factory with no air conditioning in the summer, no heat in the winter in Missouri. If anyone complains of pain on their arm he gives them old dirty braces he picked up at yard sales. The chairs used are a hodgepodge of old crap he buys at thrift shops. For health insurance he forces us to go to Walgreens for flu shots or he says that we’ll get unpaid time for sick days. If someone’s child is sick or has to go home from school he’ll say things like: “don’t you have a spouse or relative? Didn’t you have a backup plan before breeding?”
    He barks orders (he’s of German descent) and if anyone even looks at a tool that is not part of their job he calls them thieves. People have quit at lunch without even coming back for their pay checks! [name removed]is the worst place to work! It’s like being in the 1800’s!

    The first approach when I read the title was: Companies have to understand that human resources are the basis of profit. But when I read the article I was chocked to say the least…
    How can this be possible?…

    I agree with Laura…we are defninitely missing the Zombie appocolypse from this synopsis.

    As for actual workplace violence prevention strategies…the first step we took was to asses potential threats. We believed that entry to the office was too accessible for strangers. We do have the occasional friendly “walk-in” who is just curious about what we do. Fortunately, no walk-in strangers have ever been dangerous. We implemented as door lock system with employee pass keys to control and prevent this potential risk. Great article, thanks for writing!

    Linwood Smith

    America has a volcanic problem w workplace bully bosses. It’s an extremely destructive & largely ignored. A comedy movie only adds to the social acceptability of the violation of human rights & dignity by the perpetrators. It is not socially acceptable! Which such a movie has as ot’s underlying message! Totally disgusting! No wonder that we only see the murders by people who’ve gone off the deep end! If we the USA would intervene at the non-physical verbal abuse & harassment level, we would be starting at the right place.
    Lord Have Mercy On the USA

    I’m very surprise to hear that civilize country like US have this problem. And feel very lucky for my workplace with get the great working condition from my boss.

    in our workplace are rare violence, security in our company works very well, all employees can work together denagn well too, both employees and the leadership of such a family.

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Page last reviewed: August 27, 2013
Page last updated: August 27, 2013