Call to prevent violence at work after shooting at Walmart

Call to prevent violence at work after shooting at Walmart

Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Virginia Walmart was just the latest example of a US workplace shooting carried out by an employee.

But while many companies offer training in case a gunman is shooting, experts say much less attention is paid to how to prevent violence at work, and especially how to identify and address concerning behavior among employees.

Too often, workers don’t know how to recognize warning signs, and even more crucial, they don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to workplace safety and human resources experts.

“We have built an industry that revolves around how to lock up the bad guys. We have invested heavily in physical security measures like metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of The Violence Project, a group of non-profit, non-partisan research. But too often in workplace shootings, he noted, “it’s someone who already has access to the building.”

The Walmart shooting in particular raised questions about whether employees feel empowered to speak up because a team leader carried it out.

Walmart said the perpetrator was 31-year-old Andre Bing. He proceeded to shoot co-workers in the break room of the Chesapeake store, killing six people and wounding six others. He then apparently committed suicide, police said.

Employee Briana Tyler, who went to work at Walmart two months ago and survived the shooting, said Bing did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular. She indicated that she never had a negative experience with Bing, but was told by others that he was “the manager to watch out for.” She said Bing had a history of reporting people for no reason.

Walmart launched computerized courses in 2015 on what to do when an armed individual is shooting, which focused on three main points: avoiding danger, keeping your distance and, as a last resort, defending yourself. So, following a 2019 shooting at a company store in El Paso, Texas, in which an outside gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by discontinuing the sale of certain types of bullets and asked customers no longer carry visible weapons inside their stores. Now he only sells hunting rifles and related ammunition.

Walmart did not specifically respond Wednesday to questions asking for more details about its training and its protocols to protect its own employees. The company only indicated that it routinely reviews its training policies and will continue to do so.

Densley said employers need to create open channels for workers to raise concerns about the behavior of other employees, including confidential hotlines. He noted that attention is often paid to “red flags”—serious signs that something is seriously wrong—and that workers should instead watch for “yellow flags”: subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or absenteeism. Densley said managers need to work with these individuals to get them counseling and check in regularly.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s manual for active armed individuals states that human resources officers have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting indications of potential violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report concerning behavior, such as increased absenteeism and repeated violations of company policies.

But many employers may not have such prevention policies in place, said Liz Peterson, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an umbrella organization of more than 300,000 people management professionals. .

He noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of human resource management professionals said they did not know whether their organizations had policies to prevent workplace violence. , and 9% more said they lacked such programs. In contrast, 57% of human resource managers said they did have training to respond to acts of violence.

A recent federal government report examining violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, though they remain well below a peak reached in the mid-1990s.

Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased 11%, from 409 to 454. That’s still 58% below a peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report, which was published in July by the Departments of Labor, Justice, and Health and Human Services. The text reports that workplace murder trends are largely similar to national homicide trends.

But the increase in public mass shootings in the country is making employers increasingly aware of the need to address workplace mental health and prevent violence, and of the liabilities employers may face if they ignore warning signs. warning, Peterson said.

In one notorious example, the family of a victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against the Northern California Transportation agency, alleging that it failed to act on a history of threatening behavior by an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers. at a railway terminal for electric trains in San José in 2021.

The transit agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, had been the subject of four workplace conduct investigations, and one employee worried Cassidy might “get violent.” ” (“go postal”, in English). That expression derives from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in American history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 colleagues in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.

“Violence at work is a situation that you never think is going to happen in your own organization until it does, and unfortunately it’s important to be prepared in case there is one because it’s becoming more frequent,” Peterson said.