With the incidence of workplace violence so high these days, one must wonder why anyone would want to be a supervisor or have any position of authority in the workplace.
In a deadly rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 13 of his co-workers and injured 28. It was reported that Hasan was retaliating because he sought for years to be discharged from military service, in part because he had been taunted about his Muslim faith. The breaking point came when he discovered that he would be deployed to Afghanistan instead.
On February 12, 2010, professor Amy Bishop shot to death 3 co-workers after learning she had been denied tenure at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. It was reported that on the day in question, Bishop taught her neuroscience class as usual, and then she attended a faculty meeting in the Biology department where she sat for roughly 30 minutes before pulling out a 9-millimeter gun and opening fire. She killed 3 fellow biology professors, including the department’s chairman. Three others were wounded.
On August 3, 2010, Omar Thornton, a warehouse driver fatally shot 8 co-workers and himself at a beer distributorship in Connecticut. He apparently targeted managers who hired a private detective to tail him. It was reported that on the fateful day, Thornton attended a disciplinary hearing in which he watched video that showed him stealing beer. He was then asked if he wanted to quit or be fired. It was reported that Thornton left the meeting and coolly went to the kitchen area where he took out 2 guns from his lunchbox. He walked out into the hall and immediately began shooting. The first people he shot were managers or executives involved in his firing.
In a phone call to 911 just before he took his own life, Thornton said, “they treat me bad over here, and they treat all the other Black employees bad over here too. So I just took it into my own hands and I handled the problem.”
After the massacre, Thornton’s girlfriend, Kristi Hannah said Thornton often complained of being called a “n—–” and seeing racist scrawls on the bathroom walls directed at him. “There is only so much one man could take,” she said. “They pushed and they pushed and they pushed and he finally just snapped.” Hannah continued by saying that she saw something wasn’t right when he left her apartment. “That morning he seemed like he was in a daze,” she said. “His eyes weren’t right. They were empty. I kept asking him what was wrong but he wouldn’t tell me.”
Then, on August 9, 2010, JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, allegedly flipped out over a fight with an agitated traveler, cursed passengers over then intercom, then grabbed some beer from the plane’s galley and exited the plane by sliding down an emergency slide he deployed on the plane at New York’s Kennedy Airport.
Slater, was suspended by JetBlue. The Queens County District Attorney also charged him with trespassing, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Some have labeled him a hero for ‘doing that which everyone who has traveled by airplane dreams.’ Some have labeled him a psychopath, a man who lost control in a job where losing control is absolutely forbidden. Still others suggest he’s just a funny, crazy wild man. Slater’s mother said he just had a small melt-down and he deserves to have such a melt-down.
As a labor and employment law arbitrator, it is important to look at how the actions of these 4 impacted the employer and other employees at work. No one wants to go to work and be subjected to the actions of someone who has lost control, becomes angry, agitated or irrational. Employees should be afraid and concerned when a co-worker displays such behavior at work. There is no place for this type of behavior at work. It should be frowned upon and met with discipline.
Most employers have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for workplace violence. Because the offender knows the workplace so well, and knows where every employee could be found at any particular time, employees are placed in a very vulnerable position which requires heightened protection. The major responsibility of protecting employees lies with the employer. The employer can take measures such as installing metal detectors at entry points of the workplace or employing extra security personnel. But these measures are seldom sufficient. More is required.
The families of workers and other employees must all be held to a duty to report when they observe any bizarre or strange behavior by a worker especially when that worker has complained about being taken advantage of, being teased, or being victimized by other employees or the employer. They must also be made aware that they can be found liable or partly responsible when they observe such behaviors and fail to report them. They should not be allowed to become enriched by writing books or accepting payment for interviews at the expense of those who lost their lives because they failed to report.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) implemented the “If you see something, say something” campaign to combat terrorism. This campaign is credited with having saved the lives of many New Yorkers in the failed Time Square bombing plot. School districts and the Department of Health have used Public Service Announcements to raise the public’s awareness of the problem of bullying. The Department of Labor and individual employers should initiate similar campaigns to educate families and members of the work force of their duty and responsibility to report and the dangers of failing to report.
Employers must implement a multi dimensional approach to combating workplace violence which includes employee assistance programs provided by employer and enlisting the help of family members and other employees. Family members and other employees must understand that they can make a difference. This is the best way to combat the insidious problem of workplace violence.
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