Guidelines for prevention of third party violence and harassment at work

The European social partners from various sectors adopted guidelines to prevent third-party violence and harassment at work on 30 September 2010. The guidelines encourage employers to establish a clear framework for the prevention and management of violence by third parties in the context of the employment relationship. The social partners have jointly requested the European Commission to support a series of workshops over the next year aimed at disseminating the guidelines.


The cross-sectoral Framework Agreement on Harassment and Violence at Work of 26 April 2007 did not directly address the issue of third-party violence against workers. Eight European social partner organisations operating in a range of sectors in which employees are exposed to third-party violence in the employment relationship have now adopted a supplementary set of multi-sectoral guidelines to tackle work-related third-party violence and harassment. The social partner organisations involved are: the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS), the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE), the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), EuroCommerce representing wholesale, retail and international trade in the EU, the Union Network International-Europa (UNI-Europa), and the European Hospital and Healthcare Employers’ Association (HOSPEEM). These organisations represent the regional government, healthcare, commerce, private security and education sectors. The guidelines aim to ensure that every workplace has a policy to deal with third-party violence against staff, for example from the general public or from customers.

About the guidelines

These guidelines are not a European multi-sector agreement, such as the 2006 agreement on workers’ health protection through the good handling and use of crystalline silica and products containing it (EU0606039I), but the content of the guidelines does not differ greatly from what would have been contained in a multi-sectoral agreement. It is the culmination of a process conducted over two years by the social partners in these sectors, with the support of the European Commission. The recommendations are thus based on the results of several conferences, exchanges of best practice and studies, such as that carried by UNI-Europa and EPSU in 2009, the results of which are set out in a report (206 KB PDF) entitled ‘Policies, strategies and implementation: How issues of third-party violence have been tackled in practice by social partners in the commerce, hospital, private security and local and regional government sectors’.

The new guidelines are based on best practices identified in the sectors represented, especially during research and case studies presented at two conferences held in March 2008 and October 2009 in Brussels. The document proposes a list of the many forms that third-party violence can take, from ‘disrespect, to more serious threats and physical assault’ to ‘criminal offences’ or even ‘cyber-bullying/cyber-harassment’. Harassment and violence at work can be inflicted by clients, customers, patients, service users, pupils or parents, members of the public, or service providers. The guidelines state that violence not only ‘undermines an individual’s health and dignity’ but also has ‘real economic impact in terms of absences from the workplace, morale and staff turnover’.

A special approach to third-party violence

Third-party violence was merely referred to in the 2007 cross-sectoral framework agreement, and so it was felt that third-party violence deserves a special approach, as outlined in these guidelines, because it is ‘sufficiently distinct from the question of violence and harassment (among colleagues) in the workplace’ and ‘sufficiently significant in terms of its impact on the health and safety of workers and its economic impact’. The guidelines aim to support actions by employers, employees and their representatives to prevent, reduce and mitigate third-party violence. Employers are encouraged to establish a ‘clear policy framework for the prevention and management’ of these phenomena. The guidelines also state that: ‘The most successful initiatives involve both social partners from the very beginning and involve a “holistic” approach, covering all aspects from awareness-raising over prevention and training to methods of reporting, support for victims and evaluation and ongoing improvement.’

The social partners propose, on this basis, a policy framework for employers that includes a range of elements, such as:

  • information, such as a definition of third-party violence or a warning to third parties that harassment and violence against employees will not be tolerated;
  • a policy based on risk assessment which can take into account the various occupations, locations and working practices of employees;
  • appropriate training for management and employees on, among other things, ‘techniques to avoid or manage conflicts’;
  • a clear policy on the support to be provided to employees;
  • the establishment of procedures to monitor and investigate allegations of harassment and/or violence from third parties or to record facts and figures for monitoring and ensure follow-up of the policies put in place.


All these elements represent a toolbox that the social partners undertake to promote to their national federations.

To disseminate their guidelines, the social partners have jointly requested the European Commission to support a series of workshops, to be organised before the end of 2011. The social partners will also transmit this document ‘to all relevant players at European and national levels’ and invite their members outside the EU to make use of the guidelines, which is a new requirement for this kind of initiative.

Frédéric Turlan, Héra

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