NEW YORK (AP) – Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia was just the latest example of a workplace shooting by an employee.
But while many companies provide 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 often don’t know how to recognize 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 lock out bad guys. We’ve invested heavily in physical security measures like metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the nonprofit research group and The non-party. Project Violence But too often in workplace shootings, he said, “this is the person who already has access to the building.”
The Walmart shooting in particular has raised questions about whether employees feel empowered to speak up because the shooting was a team leader.
Walmart identified him as 31-year-old Andre Bing, and he opened fire on fellow employees in the break room of the Chesapeake store, killing six and injuring six others. Police said it appeared he then 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 she never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others told her he was “the manager to look out for.” She 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: avoid danger, keep your distance and finally, defend. Then, in 2019 after a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas store in which an outside gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by discontinuing sales of certain types of ammunition and asking customers without firearms to no longer behave openly. their stores. It 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 must create open channels for workers to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential hotlines. He noted that attention is too often focused on the “red flags” and that workers should be on the lookout for the “yellow flags” – subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or not working. Densley said managers need to work with those people to counsel them and do regular check-ins.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooter manual states that human resources officers have a responsibility to “create a system to report signs of potential violence.” 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 organization of more than 300,000 human resources professionals.
She noted in SHRM’s 2019 survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they did not know if their organizations had policies to prevent workplace violence, while another 9% said there were no such programs. at them. That was in contrast to the 57% of HR managers who said they had training on how to respond to violence.
A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over the past few decades found that workplace homicides have risen in recent years, although they remain down sharply from a peak in the mid-1990s.
Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased 11% from 409 to 454. That was still down 58% from a peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report, released by the Department of Labour, Justice and Health in July. and Human Services. The report found that homicide trends in the workplace were very much in line with homicide trends across the country.
But the country’s spike in public mass shootings is raising awareness among employers of the need to address workplace mental health and violence prevention — and the liabilities they could face employers if they ignore warning signs, Peterson said.
In one high-profile example, the family of a victim filed a wrongful-death lawsuit earlier this year against a Northern California transportation agency, alleging that it failed to address a history of threatening behavior by an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers at a. light rail yard in San Jose in 2021.
The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents that show the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, was the subject of four workplace conduct investigations, with one worker concerned that Cassidy “could go through .” That demonstration stems 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 a situation that you don’t think will happen to your organization until it does, and unfortunately, it’s important to prepare for them because they’re becoming more common,” Peterson said.
This story has been updated to correct the City State University location. It is in St. Paul, not DePaul, Minnesota.