Walmart Shooting Highlights Need for Workplace Violence Prevention

The mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia last Wednesday was just the latest example of an employee-initiated workplace shooting.

Source: AP | Published on November 28, 2022

Mass violence

The mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia last Wednesday was just the latest example of an employee-initiated workplace shooting.

While many companies offer active shooter training, experts say there is far less emphasis on how to prevent workplace violence, particularly how to identify and address concerning behavior among employees.

According to workplace safety and human resources experts, workers far too often do not recognize warning signs and, more importantly, do not know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so.

“We’ve built an industry around keeping bad guys out. We have invested heavily in physical security measures such as metal detectors, cameras, and armed security guards “said James Densley, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University in DePaul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the nonpartisan research organization

The Violence Project. However, in too many workplace shootings, “this is someone who already has access to the building,” he said.

Because the shooting was carried out by a team leader, the Walmart shooting raised concerns about whether employees felt empowered to speak up.

According to Walmart, the gunman was 31-year-old Andre Bing, who had been with the company since 2010 and whose most recent position at the Chesapeake, Virginia, store was “overnight team lead.” According to police, he opened fire on coworkers in the break room, killing six and injuring six others before apparently killing himself.

Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, stated that the gunman did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular. Tyler, who started working at Walmart two months ago, said she had never had a bad experience with him, but others warned her that he was “the manager to watch out for.” She claimed Bing had a history of falsely accusing people.

Family members identified two of the deceased victims as Tyneka Johnson, 22, and Brian Pendleton, 39. The remaining adult victims were identified as Lorenzo Gamble, Kellie Pyle, and Randall Blevins by the city of Chesapeake on Wednesday evening. According to the city, the identity of the sixth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was withheld because he was a minor.

After the 2019 shooting season, the policy will be changed.

In 2015, Walmart launched a computer-based active shooter training program that emphasized three pillars: avoid the danger, keep your distance, and defend. Then, in 2019, following a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which an outside gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the public threat by discontinuing sales of certain types of ammunition and asking customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores. It now only sells hunting rifles and ammunition.

Walmart did not respond specifically on Wednesday to questions about its training and protocols for protecting its own employees. The company only stated that it reviews its training policies on a regular basis and will continue to do so.

Densley believes that employers should establish open channels for employees to express concerns about their coworkers’ behavior, such as confidential hotlines. He noted that too often, workers focus on “red flags,” when they should be looking for “yellow flags” — subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or not showing up for work. Managers, according to Densley, must work with those individuals to get them counseling and conduct regular check-ins.

Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooter manual states that human resource officials must “create a system for reporting signs of potential violence behavior.” It also encourages employees to report any suspicious behavior, such as increased absenteeism or repeated violations of company policies.

According to Liz Peterson, Quality Manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of over 300,000 human resource professionals, many employers may not have such prevention policies in place.

She cited a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, which found that 55% of HR professionals didn’t know if their organizations had policies in place to prevent workplace violence, and another 9% said they didn’t. In contrast, 57% of HR managers said they had received training on how to respond to violence.

A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades discovered that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, despite remaining significantly lower than a peak in the mid-1990s.

Fewer Workplace Homicides

The latest Walmart shooting was the second major mass shooting in the United States in as many days. A suspect opened fire in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the early morning hours of Sunday, killing five people and injuring 17 others.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of workplace homicides in the United States increased by 11%, from 409 to 454. According to the report, which was released in July by the Departments of Labor, Justice, and Health and Human Services, that was still down 58% from a peak of 1,080 in 1994. The report discovered that workplace homicide trends largely mirrored national homicide trends.

However, the country’s recent spike in mass public shootings is raising awareness among employers about the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace and preventing violence — as well as the liabilities employers may face if they ignore warning signs, according to Peterson.

In one high-profile case, the family of a victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Northern California Transportation Agency earlier this year, alleging that the agency failed to address an employee’s history of threatening behavior before he shot and killed nine coworkers at a light railyard in San Jose in 2021.

The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents revealing that the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, had been the subject of four workplace investigations, and one worker was concerned that Cassidy might “go postal.” That phrase comes from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in American history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.

“Workplace violence is something you never expect to happen to your organization until it does, and unfortunately,