Last Friday afternoon, an employer informed one of its employees, Gary Martin, of his termination. Shortly thereafter, he opened fire with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, killing five of his co-workers and wounding five police officers. Martin himself was the sixth casualty, killed in a shootout with police.
After the news of this tragedy broke, reports surfaced of Martin’s history of violence—six prior arrests by the local police department for domestic violence, and a decades-old felony conviction for aggravated assault.
All of which begs the question, should this employer have known that Martin was prone to violence, and, if so, should it have taken added measures in connection with his termination.
A criminal history of violent arrests and offenses is not necessarily a predictor of workplace violence. Still, there are certain warning signs for which an employer can look to help determine whether an employee is at risk for potential violence.
Research has shown that these warning signs include:
- A chronic inability to get along with fellow employees
- Mood swings and anger control issues
- Expressions of paranoia or persecution. Being a “victim”
- A history of problems with past jobs and and/or personal relationships
- An inability to get beyond minor setbacks or disputes at work
- A fascination with guns, weapons, or violent events
- A sudden deterioration in work habits or personal grooming
- Signs of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation
- A major life problem, such as divorce or legal problems
If one more of these red flags surface, it is recommend that you refer this employee to seek attention through the company’s employee assistance program, for assessment and treatment.
If you are compelled to fire an employee who you think poses a risk of violence, it is recommended that you take further steps to mitigate against the risk of your termination transforming into a workplace tragedy.
It is highly recommended that employers consider following:
- Consider a professional threat assessment
- Consider using a neutral manager or outside security consultant to carry out the termination
- If there is manager or supervisor who has been the object of threats or anger, that person should not be the person to conduct the termination
- Have security nearby—not in the same office, but close enough to hear signs of a problem and to act
- Do not take a break. There are numerous instances of an employee asking for a bathroom break or time to compose him- or herself, and using the break to retrieve weapons
- Wait until the end of the workday to terminate, if possible. This protects the dignity of the fired employee and minimizes the number of employees on hand should a situation escalate
- Minimize any reasons why the employee would have to revisit the workplace. Mail a check; have uncollected belongings sent to the person’s home via a delivery service
- Allow the person as much dignity as possible, but be brief and to the point. Do not get into a back and forth
- Emphasize any severance benefits and outsourcing help that may be available. Some organizations decide they will not contest unemployment or offer the option of resigning.
As with most issues in the workplace, the proverbial ounce of prevention really matters. While there exists no foolproof way to protect your workplace against these kinds of tragedies, a few preventative steps can go a long way to putting you in the best place to deter and respond.
As many of you are aware, we offer active shooter training through our violence in the workplace preparedness program. If you would like some assistance in this area please feel free to contact us.