NEW YORK (AP) — The mass shooting Wednesday at a Walmart in Virginia was just the latest example of a workplace shooting perpetrated by an employee.
But while many companies provide active training on shooters, experts say there’s far less focus on how to prevent workplace violence, especially how to identify and address worrying behaviors among employees.
Workers too often don’t know how to recognize warning signs and, more crucially, don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to occupational 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, professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the research group San for-profit and nonpartisan The Violence Project. But too often in workplace shootings, he said, “that’s someone who already has access to the building.”
The Walmart shooting, in particular, has raised questions about whether employees feel entitled to speak out because a foreman carried out the shooting.
Identified by Walmart as 31-year-old Andre Bing, he opened fire on fellow employees in the Chesapeake store’s breakroom, killing six and leaving six others injured. Police said he then apparently committed suicide.
Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said Bing didn’t appear to be targeting anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she’s never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others have told her she was “the manager to watch out for.” You mentioned that Bing had a history of writing people for no reason.
Walmart launched computer-based active shooter training in 2015 that focuses on three pillars: avoiding danger, keeping your distance, and ultimately defending yourself. So, 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 stopping the sale of some types of ammunition and asked customers to no longer openly carry firearms in its stores. It now only sells shotguns and their ammunition.
Walmart did not specifically respond to questions Wednesday asking for more details about its training and protocols for protecting its employees. The company only said it reviews its training policies regularly and will continue to do so.
Densley said employers need to create open channels for workers to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential hotlines. She noted that too often attention is focused on “red flags” and workers should look for “yellow flags”—subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers need to work with those people to get them advice and do regular checkups.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s Active Shooting Manual states that HR officials have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting signs of potential violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors such as increased absenteeism and repeated violations of company policies.
But many employers may not have such preventative policies in place, said Liz Peterson, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resource professionals.
She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they didn’t know if their organizations had policies in place to prevent workplace violence, and another 9% said they didn’t. have such programs. This was in contrast to the 57% of HR managers who said they had received training in how to respond to violence.
A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, although they remain down sharply from their peak in the mid-1990s .
Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased by 11%, from 409 to 454. According to the report, released in July by the Departments of Labor, Justice and Health, the figure was still down 58% from a peak of 1,080 in 1994. and personal services. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely mirrored homicide trends nationwide.
But the spike in mass public shootings in the country is raising awareness among employers about the need to address mental health in the workplace and prevent violence and the responsibilities employers can face if they ignore the warning signs, he said Peterson.
In one high-profile example, the family of a victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against the Northern California Transportation Agency, claiming it failed to address a story of threatening behavior by an employee who shot and killed nine colleagues at a light rail yard 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 one worker had concerns that Cassidy might’ go by mail”. That expression comes from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in U.S. history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.
“Workplace violence is a situation that you never think will happen to your organization until it happens, and unfortunately, it’s important to prepare for them because they’re becoming more common,” said Peterson.
This story has been updated to correct the location of Metropolitan State University. It’s in St. Paul, not DePaul, Minnesota.