top of page

Disabilities Unveiled: Exploring the Link Between Workplace Aggression and Hidden Challenges

Evelina Silveira, B.A. (Hons), Certified Mediator, TEFL Certified

It is commonly acknowledged that individuals with disabilities are often subjected to bullying, yet seldom do we consider them as potential perpetrators of workplace violence or harassment. Over my two decades of professional experience specializing in addressing workplace bullying and harassment on a one-on-one basis, I have observed a significant portion of my clients also happen to have some disability.


Recently, I turned to my elementary school days and reflected on the most notorious bullies.  I've noted a recurring pattern: many of these aggressors were grappling with disabilities themselves.


Take Joanne, for instance, a formidable presence in my elementary school. An intimidating figure due to her older age, height and weight, she had been held back a few grades because of her academic struggles. It is now apparent that Joanne likely grappled with an undiagnosed learning disability, evident in her emotional distress when confronted with reading aloud and all things academic. It raises the question, perhaps, whether her aggressive behaviour towards smaller children during recess or after school served as a coping mechanism for the shame, hurt, and sense of exclusion she experienced at school.



Fast forward to my practice, I notice the correlation between disabilities and disruptive behaviour extending well beyond the schoolyard and into the workplace. In one instance, I conducted online training with an individual named Roy, who had been implicated in making homophobic remarks towards a coworker. Despite his technical proficiency in his role spanning over three decades, Roy scored few points on the sociability scale. He was abrupt and frequently aggressive. It became evident during our session that Roy had hidden his illiteracy from his boss and co-workers for three decades!   Could the lingering threat and anxiety of being “outed”  for his struggles with illiteracy make him more aggressive? It’s possible. It may provide some explanation for elevated stress levels and his subsequent inability to manage his anger well. However, it would not explain the homophobic remarks he made to his co-worker.





Similarly, workplace aggression could be attributed to addiction-related disabilities.  Consider Syd, a worker who confessed to drinking about five energy drinks a day and who also smokes tobacco and marijuana.  His volatile reaction to a coworker's seemingly innocuous request to stop incessantly beeping his forklift horn nearly led to a physical fight on the factory floor.  Substance abuse addictions raise questions about the extent to which such dependencies exacerbate workplace tensions.





Furthermore, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) emerges as a prevalent disability among individuals exhibiting bullying tendencies. The compulsive need to control and adhere to rigid routines often translates into heightened frustration when colleagues fail to meet these exacting standards. Despite their invaluable attention to detail, individuals like Don, a senior engineer widely known for his intimidating presence, copiously wrote at meetings, analyzed the fine print in all contracts, and consequently saved the company $10 million.  His OCD, in part, enabled him to deliver results that others could not, but it had a disastrous toll on his team.  Don was perpetually angry with his co-workers and staff because he felt they did not care about the job as much as he did.


The bulk of the clients who are referred to me are high performers and have poor self-care. Most of my clients disclosed they were not getting help with their disabilities, which wasn’t too surprising. Typically, they will prioritize the company’s needs before their own.  


It becomes self-evident for clients there could be a connection with how their disability may be impeding their ability to manage their anger at work.  The question becomes, what can they do about it?


When it comes to taking charge of their disabilities, inequities in health insurance and the lack of options exist, making it more challenging for employees with less robust plans to seek help. Some have extensive health insurance plans and can follow up with therapy and other treatments, whereas many blue-collar and service-worker clients have fewer low-cost options. Rarely do health insurance plans offer extensive psychological or addiction treatments, leaving clients to rely on poorly funded community agencies.

The presence of a disability, however, cannot excuse an employee for engaging in disrespectful and, in some cases, illegal behaviour. The impact on their victims remains the same. It is incumbent upon them to learn how to cope with the disability and for employers to make them aware of the available employee benefit programs and accommodations.


To learn more about sensitivity/empathy training for workplace bullies and harassers, contact visit.







bottom of page