Once again, another deadly incident of targeted workplace violence: an angry man blasted his way into a Maryland newspaper business and shot and killed five journalists and seriously wounded two others. His actions devastated the remaining coworkers and the victims' families and friends.
Like the perpetrators of many incidences of targeted workplace violence, this man had a long history of bullying, harassing and stalking behavior, letting his anger grow and fester until he thought the only way to deal with his feelings was through murdering people he believed had wronged him.
Most workplace violence is committed without using a weapon, and the largest portion of assaults are committed by someone from outside the workplace. Some occupations have a greater risk for violence. For example, workers in the fields of law enforcement, taxis and transportation, mental health care, alcohol-serving establishments, retail and service industries, and where money is exchanged with the public. Some workplace violence happens when a current or former co-worker with a grudge acts out in extreme ways.
In the United States, there is a near weekly workplace attack. Not all workplace-targeted violence can be prevented, but businesses and other organizations need to take measures to help keep workplaces safer:
• Make sure all employees feel like a part of the organization. Every employee should be assigned someone they can talk to when they have concerns, even minor ones.
• Review all acts of workplace violence even if considered minor. Include physical aggression (shaking fists at someone, pounding on a desk, punching a wall, slamming down items, property damage); bullying and cyberbullying; verbal aggression (demeaning, offensive, or abusive language, screaming at others, threats); harassment and psychological violence (spreading rumors, gaslighting); and stalking or other inappropriate fixation on another person.
• Have zero-tolerance policies, including employees, customers, clients, patients, contractors, and vendors. Be clear what is unacceptable behavior. Always take threats seriously. Even if a specific threat hasn't been made, but someone has a "gut feeling" that someone else is dangerous, this needs to be respected and considered, so appropriate precautions can be taken.
• Remain calm when talking with or confronting an employee.
• Train all staff what to do if violence happens.
Employees usually act out violently because something triggers them when they are already a volatile person. Investigators continue to dig into the personal histories and behaviors of people committing these targeted crimes, and researchers are helping us recognize early warning signs leading up to attacks. Here are some indicators to look out for. The more threatening behaviors displayed, the more serious the threat of violence:
• Does a co-worker appear increasingly angry or bizarre? Has their behavior or performance deteriorated? Are they paranoid? Fascinated with violence? Do they seem depressed or are becoming isolated?
• Is there serious conflict with a coworker or supervisor? Have they made threats or are obsessed with another co-worker?
• Are they unusually upset about something at work (disciplinary action or denial of a promotion or raise)? Do they increasingly complain of unfair treatment?
• Are they having a tough time handling "outside" issues (divorce, money, alcohol or substance abuse)?
• Were there layoffs or reorganization? (Many incidents occur when an unstable person is laid off or fired.)
The Department of Labor states domestic violence accounts for 27 percent of workplace violence. Domestic violence offenders typically stalk their victims and know their work and life routines, which helps them execute their assault plans at the victim's workplace. (CAV staff can assist in safety planning.)
Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers freeconfidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at 575-758- 9888 or go to TaosCAV.org.