Workplace violence in human services agencies: A comparative study of local county government departments of social services in New York State

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Richard D. Schwartz


Labor relations, Welfare, Public administration, Criminology, violence

Subject Categories



The purpose of this study is to examine workplace violence in local county government departments of social services (LDSS) in New York State. Questionnaires were sent to every LDSS (N = 57) in New York, excluding New York City. Forty five (79%) of the counties participated in the study.

The researcher obtained more information, when needed, by phone interviews. Some of the requested information, which was perceived to be politically and legally sensitive, was inconsistent and underreported. For example, 25 counties reported no workplace violence, during the timeframe in question, when there was evidence to the contrary.

Despite some limitations in the data, there were significant findings. First, prevalence of workplace violence is significantly greater in "Metropolitan" areas than in "Nonmetropolitan" areas. Second, counties with large client populations have a higher prevalence of workplace violence per capita. Third, 98% of the client perpetrators of violence in this study were young adult males, even though they represented only 15% of the total adult client population in New York State. Fourth, most LDSS are not adequately prepared to handle workplace violence or have taken appropriate action to prevent future acts of violence. The range of preparedness by commissioners was from very few and weak efforts in preparedness to slightly more than 50% of the recommended best practices in workplace violence prevention. Fifth, income maintenance workers and field workers are at the greatest risk for violence.

Recommendations include the need for mandated uniform reporting systems for state and county governments, interfacing with a federal reporting system. LDSS should take immediate steps to institute comprehensive prevention programs for zero tolerance of workplace violence. These programs should include modification of management and operational practices as well as management, employee and client training. Administrative negligence could have legal, financial and social consequences. It is further recommended that increased attention and resources be directed to the problems including mental health needs of young adult males who are the chief perpetrators of workplace violence in LDSS.

Finally, workplace violence is a manifestation of a larger societal problem of violence and is related to ways in which Americans interface with one another and how they resolve their conflicts. This researcher urges national leadership to encourage attitudes of respect for the dignity of others and non-violent conflict resolution of interpersonal problems.


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