See Something, Say Something, Do Something: Workplace Violations

Kristi Suddock @KdSuddock


Workplace violations are confusing to identify and uncomfortable to confront once you recognize something off going on. There can be many red flags that go unnoticed, but empowering yourself is an important first step to stopping suspicious activity.

The Department of Homeland Security implemented a call-to-action campaign called “See Something, Say Something” to engage the public in protecting America through awareness and action. The saying applies to any situation in life, and can be translated into aspects of the everyday workplace as well.

Many employees have become complacent, turning a blind eye — whether intentionally or unintentionally — to warning signs of a potential violation. In any workplace, the most common violations are related to safety, harassment or bullying, and violence. Creating a safe office space requires action on those who observe violations because if you don’t speak up, who will?

To better navigate through an uncertain situation, start by asking these three questions:

Knowing what warning signs to be on the lookout for is the first step in enacting change. There can be a variety of red flags to watch for depending on your company’s key business function and the daily tasks employees perform. Safety violations may not be a major concern if you work in a corporate office, but it is an issue for those working on-site, in manufacturing plants or factories. For example, not wearing the required personal protective equipment or working under the influence are safety violations that would potentially harm an employee.

There are various types of harassment and bullying that can occur in a workplace, including peer-to-peer or management to employee. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job. Remember, bullying and harassment can be both physical and verbal, so it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open.

Another common workplace violation is violence and suspicious activity, such as theft. Workplace violence is described as is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Each year, over two million Americans have reported they were a victim of workplace violence. According to a CNBC article, crime in the workplace costs US businesses an average of $50 billion a year. Theft of property and money from the workplace by employees is a widespread problem affecting many businesses.

In a recent study conducted by the American Society of Safety Engineers, when someone sees something they think is unsafe, people only speak up about 39 percent of the time. It’s hard to know exactly what to say when you have witnessed a workplace violation taking place, especially if you’re not the one directly affected.

If you are comfortable saying something in the moment, common responses to violations you see occurring to others could be: “Is everything okay here,” or “do you need help?” If you are personally affected by the violation, remove yourself from the situation and get help.

Every company should have a policy that lays out how employees can report workplace violations, including a designated individual (typically in HR) to handle all matters. There may be situations in which speaking with your direct supervisor or upper management is the first step in finding a solution.

As an employer, it’s important to be transparent with your employees and encourage them to report violent or threatening behavior. Creating a speak-up culture that promotes inclusion, honesty and safety should be nurtured so that when violations occur, employees feel empowered and comfortable to stand up.

If you find yourself in a sticky situation, make sure to report what you see to management or human resources department immediately and according to company policy. Before reporting something that may be nothing, ask someone nearby, “Does this look right to you?” as involving others can provide witnesses to a workplace violation. Once reported, it is in the hands of the employer to correct any safety or ethical violations.

As an employee, there are things you can do to promote a culture of safety and honesty. Speaking with your management about current policies in place and requesting ongoing education and training surrounding workplace violations are two proactive steps to take. It is always easiest to enact change by starting with yourself, so make your best effort to be a welcoming, friendly and trustworthy friend to colleagues. Doing so may just make the difference in whether or not someone feels comfortable coming forward.

It can get easier to identify workplace violations as you progress in your career. However, no matter your position within a company, it is possible to correct errors or misbehaviors you observe in the workplace. Take on the responsibility to learn the policies of your workplace when it comes to violations. To keep yourself and others safe, see something, say something, do something.