Workplace Violence Investigation You Received a Threat: Should You Worry?

Background checks can serve a variety of purposes. Many employers use background checks to determine whether potential employees have emotional problems that could negatively affect their employment or a history of violence that could endanger other employees.

But simply unearthing someone's past issues doesn't paint a clear picture of their current mental state. One of the most effective uses of background investigation is after a threat has been made. An immediate background check can assess whether someone's current mental state is questionable and determine whether the person or entity targeted by the threat is in real danger.

When to investigate

If a business receives a direct threat — or even identifies a potential threat — it's always prudent to conduct a background investigation before taking any overt action.  Regardless, a threat in the workplace must ALWAYS be taken and treated as a serious threat.

A background check looks not only at a person's history but also at their current circumstances; this investigation produces information that can be used in a psychological analysis to determine whether someone is likely to follow through on a threat. A background check is a huge tool in determining the risk level when a potential threat has been identified.

What to look for

Factors to consider in conducting a background investigation should be limited to issues that are directly related to the current threat. For example, a person's state of mind five years ago when they committed a crime or had a DUI isn't nearly as important as their state of mind right now. Are they a threat today?

Although the discovery of a past criminal record can be important, especially if the person committed a violent crime, the most important factor is the person's current emotional state.

Investigators look for the following:

  • emotional/relationship issues such as the death of a spouse or close relative, divorce or loss of child custody
  • financial issues such as extremely high debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure or automobile repossession or gambling addiction
  • legal issues such as pending lawsuits or recent illegal activity

These factors are likely to cause feelings of desperation and hopelessness and can increase the likelihood that the person will carry out the threat.

Professional investigation

Amateur security professionals often skip the background check and jump right into providing protection. This omission can be quite costly to the client because protection is sometimes unnecessary.

A good investigator will assess not only the seriousness of the threat but also how vulnerable the threatened person is. Factors to consider include:

  • the relationship between the person who made the threat and the person threatened (Are they closely connected, or do they have few if any actual ties?)
  • the ability of the person who made the threat to follow through on it (Does he or she have access to the threatened individual?)
  • the ability of the person who made the threat to gain access to a weapon (e.g., knife, gun)

In conducting a background investigation, a professional investigator will often talk to neighbors and co-workers — but the investigation must be conducted delicately. The investigator must be careful to preserve the person's reputation in case no real threat is found to exist.  Additionally, if not conducted properly the investigation can increase anxiety level of the subject and the likelihood they will carry out the threat.

Professional investigators who are highly trained in conducting background searches and professional security consultants skilled in analyzing threat factors and determining the validity of a threat should always be utilized when reacting to a threat of workplace violence incident. Don't leave your employees' safety to an untrained human resources or risk manager.  The liability of the wrong decision being made in reaction to a threat can be catastrophic and deadly.


Michael Julian, CPI PPS is the CEO of National Business Investigations, Inc. and its security division, MPS Security in Murrieta, CA.  He is the President of the California Association of Licensed Investigators and a graduate of the prestigious Executive Protection Institute in Virginia.  He is a second generation investigator and security specialist having been involved in the family business all of his life.  He can be reached at or 951-677-3500.