The Walmart shooting raises the need for workplace violence prevention

NEW YORK – Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia was just the latest example of a workplace shooting perpetrated by an employee.

But while many companies offer active shooter training, experts say there is far less focus on how to prevent workplace violence, particularly how to identify and address troubling behavior among employees.

Workers too often don’t know how to recognize the warning signs, and more importantly, don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to workplace safety and human resources experts.

“We’ve built an industry on how to block bad guys. We’ve 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 St. Louis. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the non-profit, non-partisan research group The Violence Project. But too often in workplace shootings, he said, “it’s someone who already has access to the building.”

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

Identified by Walmart as 31-year-old Andre Bing, he opened fire on other employees in the break room of the Chesapeake store, killing six people and wounding six others. Police said he then apparently killed himself.

Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said Bing didn’t seem to be targeting anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said he never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others told him he was “the manager to watch out for.” He said Bing had a history of writing people up for no reason.

Walmart launched computer-based active shooter training in 2015, which focused on three pillars: avoiding danger, keeping your distance, and ultimately defending. Then, in 2019, after a mass shooting at a 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 ammunition and asked that customers no longer openly carry firearms in their stores. Now only sells hunting rifles and related ammunition.

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

Densley said employers need to create open channels for workers to voice concerns about employee behavior, including confidential phone lines. He noted that too often the focus is on “red flags” and workers should be looking for “yellow flags” – subtle changes in behavior such as increased anger or not showing up for work . Densley said managers need to work with these people to get them counseling and do regular check-ins.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooter manual states that HR officials have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting signs of behavior of potential violence.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors 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 for the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resources professionals.

He noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55 percent of HR professionals said they didn’t know if their organizations had policies to prevent workplace violence, and another 9 percent said they did. they didn’t have these programs. This contrasted with 57% of HR managers who said they had training on how to respond to violence.

A recent federal government report that examined workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, although they remain well down from their mid-century highs of the nineties

Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased 11 percent, from 409 to 454. That was still 58 percent less than the peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report, which was released in July by the Department of Labour, Justice and Health. and Human Services. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely mirrored homicide trends nationwide.

But the rise in mass public shootings across the country is raising awareness among employers of the need to address mental health in the workplace and prevent violence, and of the liabilities employers may face if they ignore the warning signs. alert, Peterson said.

In one high-profile example, a victim’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit earlier this year against a Northern California transit agency, alleging it failed to address an employee’s history of threatening behavior who shot and killed nine co-workers on a light rail in San Jose 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 a worker had become concerned that Cassidy could “go by mail”. This expression comes from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in US history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.

“Workplace violence is something you never think will happen in your organization until it does, and unfortunately, it’s important to prepare because it’s becoming more common,” Peterson said.

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