MassWednesday at was just the latest example of a workplace shooting by an employee.
But while many companies provide proactive shooting training, experts say far less attention is paid to how to prevent workplace violence, especially identifying and responding to troubling employee behavior.
According to experts in workplace safety and human resources, employees too often do not know how to recognize the warning signs and, more importantly, do not know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so.
“We’ve built an industry around how to block criminals. We have invested heavily in physical security measures such as metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, a professor of justice at Metropolitan State University in DePaul, Minnesota and co-founder of the nonprofit and nonpartisan research group The Violence Project. But all too often during workplace shootings, he said, “this is someone who already has access to the building.”
The Walmart shooting in particular has raised questions about whether employees feel entitled to speak out, as it was the team leader who carried out the shooting.
Walmart identified the gunman as 31-year-old Andre Bing, who had worked for Walmart since 2010 and whose last job at the store in Chesapeake, Virginia was, according to the company, “night team boss.” Police say he opened fire on associates in the break room, killing six people and leaving six wounded before apparently committing suic*de.
Brian Tyler’s employee, who survived the shooting, said the gunman was not aiming at anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she never had a negative experience with him, but others told her he was “a manager to watch out for.” She said Bing had a history of saving people for no reason.
Two of the deceased victims were identified by family members as Tyneka Johnson, 22, and Brian Pendleton, 39. The city of Chesapeake identified the other adult victims Wednesday night as Lorenzo Gamble, Kellie Pyle and Randall Blevins. The identity of the sixth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was withheld because he was a minor, the city He said.
Policy change after 2019 shooting
In 2015, Walmart launched a computerized shooting training that focused on three pillars: avoiding danger, keeping distance, and defending. Then, in 2019, after a mass shooting at a store in El Paso, Texas, where the outsideWalmart addressed the public emergency by stopping the sale of certain types of ammunition and asked customers to no longer carry firearms in their stores. Currently, he only sells hunting shotguns and their ammunition.
Walmart did not specifically respond to questions on Wednesday regarding more specific information about training and protocols to protect its own employees. The company only said it was routinely reviewing its training policies and would continue to do so.
Densley said employers must create open channels for employees to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential hotlines. He noted that too often attention is focused on “red flags” and employees should look for “yellow flags” – subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or no-shows. Densley said managers must work with these individuals to provide them with advice and carry out regular checks.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooting handbook states that human resources officials have a duty to “create a system for reporting signs of potential violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors such as increased absenteeism and repeated violations of company policies.
But many employers may not have such preventive policies in place, said Liz Peterson, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resource professionals.
She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they did not know if their organizations had a workplace violence prevention policy, and another 9% said they lacked such programs. This was in contrast to 57% of HR managers who said they received training in responding to violence.
The recent federal government report a study of workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, although they are still declining sharply from their mid-1990s peak.
Decrease in homicides in the workplace
The recent att*ck on Walmart was the second major mass shooting in the US in just a few days. Five peoplewhen a suspect opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Between 2014 and 2019, the number of workplace homicides nationwide increased by 11%, from 409 to 454. That’s still down 58% from a peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to a report released in July by the Labor Departments, Justice and Health and Social Services. The report found that homicide trends in the workplace largely mirror homicide trends across the country.
But the surge in public mass shootings in the country is raising awareness among employers of the need to address workplace mental health and violence prevention, and the liability employers can face if they ignore the warning signs, Peterson said.
In one high-profile example, a victim’s family filed a wrongful d*ath lawsuit earlier this year against the Northern California transportation agency, claiming it failed to address the story of the threatening behavior of an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers in a San Jose light rail in 2021.
The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing that the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, was the subject of four workplace behavior investigations, with one employee concerned that Cassidy might be “posted.” This expression originated from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in US history when a postal worker shot and killed 14 employees in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.
“Workplace violence is something you never think will happen in your organization until it does happen, and unfortunately it’s important to prepare for it as it’s becoming more and more common,” Peterson said.
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