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 offer active shooter training, experts say the focus is far less than preventing workplace stress, particularly how to identify and address anxious behavior among employees.
Workers too often don’t know how to recognize the warning signs, and even more crucially, they don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered, according to the Office of Health and Human Resources experts.
“We’ve built an industry around how to lock up the bad guys. We’ve invested heavily in physical security measures like metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the nonprofit. and a nonpartisan research group. The Violence Project. But often in the fixing device he said “here is someone who already has access to the building.”
The Walmart firing raised particular questions about whether employees felt they could speak up because it was the team leader who was conducting the firing.
Identified by Walmart as 31-year-old Andre Bing, he opened fire in a break room in a Chesapeake warehouse, killing six people and wounding six others. Police said he then apparently killed himself.
Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said Bing did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, denied that he had ever had a meeting with Bing, but others told him he was “looking for an agent.” Bing said that people write history for no reason.
In 2015, Walmart deployed a computerized active shooter system that focused on three pillars: avoid danger, keep your distance, and lastly, defend. Then, in 2019, after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which a foreign gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the public threat, halting sales of certain types of guns and asking customers to no longer openly carry guns in their stores. He now sells hunting rifles and related ammunition.
Walmart on Wednesday did not specifically respond to questions seeking more detail about its training and protocols to protect its employees. The company said only that it is routinely reviewing its policies and continuing to do so.
Densley said employers need to create open ways for employees to voice concerns about employee behavior, including more confidential hotlines. He noticed that too often attention is paid to “Red Flags” and that employees should look for “Yellow Flags” – subtle changes in behavior, such as increasing anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers need to work with those people to consult with them and do regular check-ins.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security is actively issuing manuals to states that human resources officers are responsible for “creating a system for reporting signs of potential violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report escalating absenteeism and repeated behavior in violation of the company.
But many employers may not have such prevention in place, said Liz Peterson, Quality Manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resources professionals.
In a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals noted that they did not know whether their organizations had policies in place to prevent the work force, and another 9% said they lacked such programs. That was against 57% of HR managers who said they had training on how to respond to violence.
A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have risen in recent years, although they remain sharp from their peak in the mid-1990s.
Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased 11% from 409 to 454. That’s still 58% down from the peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to a report released in July by the Department of Labor, Justice and Health. and Human Services. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely predicted national homicide trends.
But the country’s spike in public mass shootings is raising awareness among employers of the need to address mental health issues in the workplace and stop violence — and the burden employers can bear 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, claiming it was not talking about the threatening behavior of an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers. light railyard in San Jose in 2011.
The agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, was the subject of four workplace investigations, and one employee was anxious for Cassidy to “go to headquarters.” That expression stems from one of the worst mass shootings in US history, when a courier worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.
“It’s a workforce situation that you never 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 Metropolitan State University website. It’s in Paul, not DePaulo, Minnesota.