Managing Violent Behaviour in the Workplace

The AEU Tasmania has become aware of growing concern amongst its members about the increasing incidence and changing nature of violence in the workplace. This occupational violence is arising at all levels of education and there is a perception amongst members that the violence is increasing in both quantity and degree. 

In response to this, the AEU believes that all students and education staff have a right to work in a safe teaching and learning environment that is free from violence.  We support the necessity of safe systems of work and the need to develop effective strategies to prevent violence in the workplace. The AEU believes that to effectively deal with this violence requires diverse and well-resourced strategies to be developed and implemented both in schools/colleges/TAFE and across agencies.

Occupational Violence

Occupational violence is any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Violence in the education sector is present in any situation where a member of the school community (student, teacher, support staff, other education worker, parent or visitor) is intimidated, bullied, abused, threatened or assaulted; or their property is deliberately damaged by another member of that community or the public in circumstances arising out of their activities in a workplace.

As such, occupational violence in educational settings may be:

  • Student(s) to student(s)
  • Student(s) to staff member
  • Staff member to student(s)
  • Staff member to staff member
  • Caused by or involving parent(s)/carer(s)
  • Caused by outside factors not directly connected to the school

The Impact of Occupational Violence

Occupational violence in an educational setting can seriously affect physical and psychological health and compromise the safety of students, staff and others in the workplace.  Where a student, staff member, or other has experienced violence and harm, there may be negative long term physical and psychological health consequences. In addition to this, the fear of potential violence can be a significant source of stress for those in the workplace and may compound other daily stressors and pressures.  Sustained stress, such as this, over a long period may lead to poor psychological and physical health outcomes.

Workplace Health and Safety Implications

In addition to its criminal law implications, occupational violence is a workplace health and safety issue and it is the responsibility of the employer, in this case The Department of Education, to provide a safe environment for both staff and students. Prevention and management of occupational violence is a requirement of the employer under workplace health and safety legislation. All education staff and students have a right to a safe and healthy workplace under WHS legislation.

If violence or unsafe work practices exist, support procedures and systems to counter these must be readily provided by the employer.

The AEU strongly encourages all work places to elect health and safety representatives (HSRs) to represent the health and safety interests of employees within their workplace.  This is an important role, with the HSR acting as a conduit for communication about important WHS matters and any concerns that employees may have about safety in their workplace.

WHS matters and any concerns that employees may have about safety in their workplace.  The WHS Act recognises that workplaces have better health and safety outcomes when employees have input before decisions are made about health and safety matters that affect them.  Having an HSR in place facilitates this ability to have input into WHS in your workplace.

Procedures and Strategies

An important tool for addressing many of the issues experienced around violence in schools is the development and implementation of an effective school behaviour management policy/plan.  This policy/plan should typically be holistic (whole school approach), preventative, consistent, have clear consequences, involve staff, parents/carers and students, be adequately supported by senior staff, and be adequately resourced.  Your workplace should have one of these plans in operation and all staff should be aware of it.

Severely Disruptive Students

Severely disruptive students can cause intolerable levels of stress in the classroom. In addition to the rights of all students to an education free from disruption; both students and teachers have a right to have severely disruptive students considered by senior staff as a serious matter.  Your workplace should have clear strategies, policies and procedures to adequately deal with these students. These strategies can include, professional counselling, special programs, suspension and exclusion (internal and external), and negotiated behaviour contracts, which outline behaviour expectations and clear procedures and consequences when these expectations aren’t met. Other strategies may include, ongoing consultation with classroom teachers and additional support allocated to both the teachers and the students.  The AEU recommends that risk assessment and/or risk management plan documents should be produced by the employer for disruptive and/or violent students. These documents should identify the risks associated with the student behaviour and address strategies to remove or mitigate that risk.  These documents should be produced in consultation with teachers and senior staff and as an employee concerned about workplace health and safety you are entitled to make a request for one.

It is important to note that all students, including the disruptive/violent student, have a right to an education. Therefore, the disruptive/violent student should receive the appropriate intervention and education the give them the best opportunity to regulate their behaviour and continue with their education.  The AEU believes that, the employer needs to make sure that schools have the resources for students to get the individual support and programs they need to reduce these difficult behaviours. This however must be balanced with the legal duty of the employer to provide a health and safe workplace for all staff and students.

Violence Against School Staff/Other Students

If a student inflicts physical violence on another person, she/he should be immediately removed from the situation and not be allowed to return or have contact with that person until a risk management plan and any necessary additional resources are in place to guarantee the safety of staff and other students. If you are not satisfied with the adequacy or appropriateness of the plan, or if the student is a continual offender, you should contact your union.  You should also consider your rights under the workplace health and safety legislation to not return to work until you are satisfied with the employer’s response and the safety of the workplace.  If you experience violence from students you should report this to senior staff, fill out an incident report and contact your union. You should also be aware of your rights under worker’s compensation law in these circumstances.

The employer should provide adequately resourced programs of treatment, counselling and ongoing support for any employee or student who are victims of violence and harassment.  These persons should also make themselves aware of their rights under criminal and civil law.

AEU Commitment

  • All members and students have a legal right to a safe teaching and learning environment that is free of violence.
  • We will encourage and support schools and preschools to develop a positive culture of cooperation where leaders, teachers, support staff, parents and students work together to build safe communities that are free of violence.
  • As Educators, we will strive to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills that will support quality learning, good behaviour and positive relationships.
  • We will support safe systems of work and strategies to prevent violence in our schools and preschools.
  • We will show leadership in raising awareness of the negative impact that violence has in our community.
  • We will act decisively to ensure that AEU members are supported in maintaining safe work environments that are free from violence and will not tolerate any injury caused by violence to our colleagues.

References & further information

Download print versions of our all member Fact Sheets below