According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 397 workplace-related homicides in 2013. So every day, on average, more than one person is being murdered in his or her workplace.
And in 2013, co-workers committed 74 of these homicides.
The recent shooting of television journalist Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward in Virginia, along with the person they were interviewing, has brought attention, once again, to the issue of workplace violence.
The killings were timed for maximum impact. The shooter killed the journalists while they were broadcasting live on air. If that wasn’t enough, the killer videoed the event and broadcast it on Twitter and Facebook. Millions of viewers got a first-hand look at an angry, disgruntled former employee acting on his rage.
I think most of us have to admit that at some time or another, you’ve worked with someone who is just a little bit off — you know, the co-worker who has anger issues, or maybe a personality disorder that makes him or her appear to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
Management finally acts on the behavior and action is taken. The best-case scenario is termination. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for a human resources representative to contact local police agencies to stand by while they terminate an employee.
In the case of the Virginia shooting, years before the shots rang out, the station had called the police after the suspect acted out during the termination proceedings. Better safe than sorry. Everything appears to have been done right, but years later the grudge-bearing employee returned and wreaked havoc.
This is what resonates with a lot of people: the idea that years later, the past can come back to haunt you. It’s rare, but it happens.
In 2009, a former Southern California Gas Co. employee murdered a former coworker in the company yard in Anaheim. Later that same day, he shot and killed his former manager in Pomona as he was getting ready to leave for work. After a widespread manhunt, he killed himself in his vehicle on a street adjacent to the Anaheim Police Department.
The suspect returned nearly two years after he had voluntarily separated from the company. Apparently, he felt his targeted victims were in some way responsible for him having to quit.
Closer to home, the infamous Christopher Dorner fumed for nearly four years before acting out against his former employer, the Los Angeles Police Department. His revenge-fueled rage cost of the lives of four people and the wounding of others.
All of these suspects had the same issue: the attitude of ‘I’m right and everyone else is wrong.’ Or, in other words, ‘It’s not my fault; it’s everyone else’s.”
Some psychologists describe this as a narcissistic personality disorder. People who have this disorder are just too full of themselves.
All of this begs the question, “What can we do to prevent these situations from happening?” When it comes to human behavior, that may be impossible. While human resource reps, supervisors and managers can do their best to manage difficult employees, once a person is separated from the workplace they really can’t do much.
When former employees make specific threats, action can be taken. Often, contact by the police is enough to mitigate the threats. If former employees are posting rants on social media that rise to the level of threats, police can respond to assess the situation.
What you can’t assess is the internal conversation going on in these people’s heads. No one can.
So what can you do?
You can follow safety guidelines recommended for any workplace. These include being constantly aware of your surroundings, having secured work areas with locking doors, and most importantly, having a plan.
All of this said, I would temper conversations about workplace violence with a little bit of a reality check: The odds of getting killed by a disgruntled coworker are millions to one.
But sometimes, knowing the odds just isn’t enough.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at email@example.com.