By Katherine Cabaniss
This week, another shooting incident captured the attention of the country. The violence at the Empire State Building — a national landmark — in New York became the latest in a national list of tragedies of this type.
Preliminary reports indicate that the shooter’s intent was to kill a former co-worker. The violence that ensued caught innocent bystanders in the crossfire.
The shooter reportedly had been laid off from an import-export company a year ago. As a result of his lasting anger, he laid in wait for his former manager on Aug. 24 at the entrance to the workplace in New York. When he saw his target walking to work, he emerged from his hiding place and shot the manager in the head. He fired four more rounds into the dead manager’s body, then fled the scene.
He was followed by a citizen and reported to the police. Two policemen attempted to intercept him, and became the object of his violence. When he pointed his gun at the police, he was shot and killed. Stray gunfire hit and injured ten innocent bystanders.
The former employee had been angry and disgruntled for a long period of time, and he ultimately took action. It is a frightening reminder that incidents of workplace violence can be devastating and deadly.
Workplace violence is defined as violence that originates from an employee and threatens other employees. Statistics show that violence (both employee and non-employee related) accounts for about 10 percent of fatalities at places of work. This alarming number most often reflects domestic violence that carries over to the workplace.
It is less common that workplace violence is by and against employees, or that it escalates to the level experienced last week in New York. Though incidents of intentional killings against co-workers are rare, they are devastating. There were 56 such shootings nationwide in 2010.
What motivates an employee or co-worker to commit criminal activity against those with whom they work side-by-side? In most cases, the employee or former employee is acting in retaliation or exacting revenge. The employee who commits criminal vengeance usually believes that they have been treated unfairly, whether or not they really have.
For example, in 2008 an agent at the federal ICE office in Los Angeles was the subject of disciplinary activity. During a counseling session with three supervisors, he withdrew a concealed handgun and shot and killed another agent. Even a federal law enforcement agency was not immune from this virulent form of retaliatory criminal conduct.
In the Empire State Building incident, the shooter had been previously employed by the company at the shooting location and laid off by the victim, his supervisor. He had waited a year before exacting his revenge.
Most often, disgruntled employees stop doing their jobs. The most common “revenge” of an unsatisfied employee is underperformance. In some cases, the employee simply gets a new job. How do we know if someone will take this further, into violent action, like a shooting?
As in most cases, citizens are encouraged to be aware of the threat of workplace violence, and if they see something, say something. An angry employee may make verbal threats or send threatening emails. Co-workers may hear them talk about their plans. It is critical for workplace safety that threats are reported.
Further, an organization or workplace that hears or receives a threat must take it seriously. Corporations should implement a policy on how to handle workplace violence, and enforce a zero-tolerance policy against violent behavior, stalking, or threats. Law enforcement must be notified.
Employers should also have ready references for counseling or psychiatric intervention, in those cases in which the employee or former employee needs a referral for mental health services.
Employees should be educated about what to do if they are threatened by workplace violence. The most important rule: Always put safety first. If the situation has already escalated, law enforcement should be called.
If the threat is perceived but not yet escalated, various tactics can be used to diffuse the situation, including the following:
- Maintain eye contact.
- Speak and move calmly and slowly.
- Encourage the employee to tell you why they are upset.
- Try to define the true problem.
- Encourage the employee that you will investigate the problem and search for a solution. Assure them that you will be following up with them as soon as possible.
Then, obtain professional help, whether it is from law enforcement or professional psychiatrists or counselors.
Working together, our workplaces will be safe from violence and threat. The tragedy experienced in New York will be thwarted in our jurisdiction.
Source: Your Houston News.com