Tag Archives: Workplace Violence

Recent Trend Shows Women Increasingly Becoming Involved in Workplace Violence Incidents

By Lester Rosen, ESR President & Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Blog

Some experts believe that an emerging trend of women as workplace killers may be indicated by recent cases including a September 2010 incident in which a woman allegedly killed coworkers at the baking plant in Philadelphia where she worked after being suspended from her job.

A story on The Philadelphia Inquirer website about the incident reveals that  although women commit fewer than 5 percent of homicides and assaults in the workplace – and are much less likely to kill than men as a rule – several high-profile cases of women killing in the workplace have occurred in the past few years.

  • February 2010: A female professor was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others after being denied tenure at a university in Alabama.
  • March 2010: A female supermarket worker in Florida fired for threatening to kill a coworker returned to work and made good on her threat.
  • January 2006: A female former U.S. Postal Service employee killed six colleagues and then herself at a mail-sorting plant in California.

These past cases, combined with the most recent case in Philadelphia, could indicate a possible trend emerging of women committing more acts of workplace violence, according to some experts on the subject.

A teacher at the FBI Academy and author of books on crisis management and violence is quoted as asking “Is it too early to call it a trend, or is it just an anomaly?” in the Inquirer story, adding that he “cannot recall a one- or two-year period in which we’ve had as many women with multiple victims.”

In addition, a study by the University of Tennessee included in the story found that women – although they make up more than half the U.S. population – committed only 15 percent of homicides,  showing that they are much less likely to kill than men. When women do kill, the same study also found they are more likely to choose more “personal” targets such as spouses, intimate acquaintances, or relatives.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 521 workplace killings in the United States in 2009, 420 of them committed by gunfire. The bureau did not have information on how many were committed by women.

While the term  “workplace violence” is appropriate for a quick definition or diagnosis of a problem, fully defining all aspects of  “workplace violence” can be nebulous at best. Many employers loosely define workplace violence as:

  • Assaults, other violent acts, or threats which occur in or are related to the workplace and entail a substantial risk of physical or emotional harm to individuals, or damage to company resources or capabilities.

While this definition covers a fair degree of actions, a better interpretation should be used in order to create an effective, defensible policy for employers. A better definition of workplace violence should account for the type of offense, circumstance — where and when an incident occurs, and whether it is considered to be “on-the-job” — and party or parties involved. Workplace violence can take place anywhere employees are required to carry out a business-related function.

While many acts of workplace violence are caused by external parties, such as robbery in the workplace by a stranger, recent concerns over workplace violence center on workplace violence carried out by existing employees. These internal incidents of workplace violence leave employers largely liable for any problems that occur in the workplace under the “Negligent Hiring Doctrine” dictating that employers can be held liable for damages if they knowingly employ persons known to pose a potential threat to co-workers or the public.

That said, the question arises — how can an employer identify a potentially problematic employee? The problem is that there is no magic formula that tells an employer in advance who will and will not be violent. Predicting future violence is a matter of considerable controversy. However, experts have found some factors that are present in many cases of workplace violence. One important factor is a history of past violence.  For that reason, pre-employment background checks are widely regarded as an effective screening procedure because the process serves three major functions:

  • First, screening job applicants can bring to light problems in a potential hire’s past such as a history of violence, harassment, or extremely inappropriate behavior.
  • Second, by making it standard policy to screen all job applicants on their way into the company, employers demonstrate due diligence, showing that all reasonable efforts have been made in determining whether or not the applicant poses a threat to the company or to the public.
  • Third, pro-actively communicated background screening practices cause applicants to opt-out by discouraging prospective jobseekers with criminal or problematic backgrounds from applying.

However, there is more to preventing workplace problems than screening at the door. Lives of employees can change. A person who checked out in an initial screen may over time develop the traits or behaviors indicative of a potentially violent employee. It is up to the employer to maintain a constant eye on conditions and events in the workplace — to stay aware of employee attitudes and concerns in order to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved.

For more information about background checks and workplace violence, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Source: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/102713124.html

Suspended Employee Suspected of Killing Two Co-Workers in Workplace Violence Incident

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Blog

In yet another tragic case that adds to the recent rise in workplace violence incidents, a recently suspended employee who had worked at a Kraft Foods plant in Philadelphia, PA for the past 15 years is suspected of killing two co-workers while wounding a third.

According to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the 43-year-old woman and suspected killer allegedly returned to the plant armed with a .357 Magnum only minutes after being suspended and escorted off premises. She returned minutes later with a gun, entered the building, and went to the third-floor mixing room where she worked, and opened fire on three co-workers.

The shooter was taken into custody after a standoff by SWAT team members. The event is eerily similar to other recent workplace violence incidents occurring in the past year:

  • In August 2010, a truck driver in Connecticut who purportedly stole from his company and resigned reportedly killed eight people and then shot himself with a handgun.
  • In February 2010, a professor supposedly upset about being denied tenure at a university in Alabama allegedly fatally shot three professors during a faculty meeting.
  • In January 2010, an employee at a manufacturing company in Missouri involved in a lawsuit filed against the company allegedly killed three people and then shot himself.

In addition, in the wake of the tragic shooting spree on November 5, 2009 in which an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas and took the lives of 13 military personnel and wounded 32 others, the Department of Defense called for more education about workplace violence as part of its final review of the recommendations from the independent report “Protecting the Force: Lessons Learned from Fort Hood.”

“Workplace violence” is loosely defined as threats, assaults, and violent acts – including murder – which occur in, or are related to, the workplace. All employers should consider having policies, practices, and procedures to address the subject of workplace violence.

For more information about workplace violence, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.


Defense Department Report on Fort Hood Shooting Calls for More Education about Workplace Violence

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Blog Writer

In the wake of the tragic shooting spree on November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas that took the lives of 13 military personnel and wounded 32 others, the Department of Defense (DoD) is calling for more education about workplace violence as part of its final review of the recommendations from the independent report “Protecting the Force: Lessons Learned from Fort Hood,” this according to a news release on Defense.gov.

As part of the “follow-on” review final report, the DoD will place a high priority on implementing a number of recommendations to strengthen policies, programs and procedures in several areas, one of which includes “educating commanders about the symptoms of potential workplace violence and the tools available to them to address it.”

More specifically, “Recommendation 2.6 a, b: Update Policies to Address Workplace Violence” in the follow-on report states the Independent Review found that “guidance concerning workplace violence” was insufficient and that these programs “may serve as useful resources for developing more comprehensive workplace violence prevention.” As for future action to address workplace violence, the report indicates DoD policy and guidance on the prevention of workplace violence will be developed by January 2011.

The report stems from an incident in which Army Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly opened fire on soldiers readying for deployment at Fort Hood. He has since been charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

The report underscores the need for the DoD to to broaden its force protection policies, programs, and procedures to go beyond their traditional focus on hostile external threats.  The final recommendations of the Fort Hood follow-on review can be found at: http://www.defense.gov/news/d20100820FortHoodFollowon.pdf.

Since the troubling incident at Fort Hood in November 2009, several other deadly cases of workplace violence have occurred that have garnered national media attention:

  • In January 2010, an employee at a manufacturing company in Missouri involved in a lawsuit filed against the company allegedly killed three people and then shot himself.
  • In February 2010, a professor supposedly upset about being denied tenure at a university in Alabama allegedly fatally shot three professors during a faculty meeting. 
  • In August 2010, a truck driver in Connecticut who purportedly stole from his company and resigned reportedly killed eight people and then shot himself with a handgun.

“Workplace violence” is loosely defined as threats, assaults, and violent acts – including murder – which occur in, or are related to, the workplace. All employers should consider having policies, practices, and procedures to address the subject of workplace violence.

For more information on workplace violence, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.


CAUSE Shows Background Checks Needed To Uncover Unsafe Service Employees Working In Homes

When a hired worker enters your home to perform a service that you requested, do you know to whom you are opening your door?

So asks an article on HuffingtonPost.com — ‘Could You or a Loved One End Up Like Elizabeth Smart?’ — that shows why background checks are needed to uncover unsafe employees working in and around homes of other people, and how background checks can help people avoid tragedies like the one experienced by Lucia Bone, the founder of ‘Sue Weaver CAUSE’ Consumer Awareness of Unsafe Service Employment.’

The article title references the case of Elizabeth Smart, whose father hired a contract day-worker who then later returned to the house to kidnap Elizabeth. The girl survived the ordeal, but Sue Weaver, Lucia Bone’s sister, was not so fortunate even though the worker who entered her home was hired by a large company.

In 2001, according to the article, Weaver was raped and beaten to death in her Florida home. Six months before her death, Weaver had contracted with a major department store to clean the air ducts in her home. Both workers sent to her house had criminal records. One was a twice-convicted sex offender on parole who — like the worker in the Smart case — returned to a home where he had once worked to commit a crime.

Sadly, the article reports Weaver’s murder is not an isolated case, since many consumers are robbed, assaulted, and murdered each year by workers with jobs that allow them access into homes. Because of this, Bone started Sue Weaver CAUSE to both honor her sister and to fight for standardized background checks of all in-home service employees. Through consumer awareness and legislation, Bone wants to ensure that big, reputable retail companies like Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, and others perform thorough criminal background checks on the contractors and sub-contractors they send into homes.

Since there are currently no federal or state laws requiring companies to do criminal background checks on contractors or sub-contract workers sent into homes, Sue Weaver CAUSE is demanding legislation for CAUSE Certification compliance. When interviewed for the article, Bone says the CAUSE Certification would require annual background checks following CAUSE minimum screening standards on all employees, contractors, and subcontractors. Bone adds that these standards were determined from survey results from questions asking background screening professionals what minimum screening should be conducted on workers going into homes of elderly mothers, pregnant wives, and people with special needs.

According to Bone, the minimum requirements for CAUSE Certification are:

  • Social Security Number (SSN) Address Trace;
  • County-Level Criminal Check (Search records for past seven years in counties where applicant lived, worked, or attended school);
  • Multi-jurisdictional/”National” Criminal Database, and;
  • National/State Sex Offender Registry.

In addition, Bone says consumers “never think about (criminal background checks for in-home service workers)” and automatically assume the company they hire would not send criminals into their homes. She advises consumers to be proactive and not assume companies properly screen workers sent to homes. “Bonded and insured is not a background check.”

The Sue Weaver CAUSE website is located at: http://www.sueweavercause.org/.

For more information on background checks, please visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-kinosian/could-you-or-a-loved-one_b_559526.html

Background Check Bashing -Either Too Much or Too Little Depending upon the Most Recent Headline

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

The recent headlines dealing with background checks demonstrate that to some extent, Americans are conflicted about the whole topic of background checks.

On one hand, as reported in past blogs by Employment Screening Resources (ESR), discrimination and privacy advocates feel that background checks are too intrusive and unfair. The EEOC has filed a test case alleging that a large national employer used credit report and criminal records to unfairly discriminate against members of protected groups. The state of Oregon and others are considering limitations on credit reports. Scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California have succeeded in taking their complaints all the way to the United States Supreme Court that government mandated security checks revolving around background checks and entry into facilities are overly intrusive and an invasion of privacy. A recent study conducted at a major university suggested that after a relatively short period of time, criminal records are not a predictor of future misconduct.

Conversely, the recent tragic shootings at University of Alabama-Huntsville and Ohio State University have lead to many to question if background checks should be even more in-depth. Those shootings had horrific impacts on the victim’s families and the communities involved and questions have been raised if even more background checks should have been done.

In  the case of the Ohio State University workplace violence, a top notch and highly respected background screening firm performed what appeared to be a standard entry level criminal record search and found what any screening firm would likely have found, which was no record. However, critics note that a 30 year old conviction for receiving stolen property should have been unearthed, even though old records have been destroyed, and there was some confusion about the date of birth that should have been used.

Of course, to find a thirty year old prison record under those circumstances would normally require an employer to retain private investigators at the cost of many hundreds of dollars for each and every potential new hire, as opposed to public record background screenings. And ironically, even if the screening firm had located the 30 year old criminal record for a non-violent offense and was able to establish the record belonged to the shooter, any use of it would have been soundly criticized as unfair and discriminatory. It seems that employers cannot win either way.

As it turns out, in the Ohio State University case a past employment verifications may have raised the red flags that would have alerted the employer to take a closer look at the hiring decision. It underscores that employers need to use a number of overlapping tools to evaluate a potential hire, and that no one tool, such as a criminal background check, can be used to make hiring decisions. In addition, background checks are just one component of an overall workplace violence prevention strategy.

The bottom-line is that background screening occurs at the intersection of competing and compelling societal interests. On one hand, no one wants to see workplace violence, or to have unqualified people get jobs with fake credentials. Safety, security and honesty are core values. On the other hand, society is also rightly concerned with fairness and privacy and as well as efforts to combat discrimination. The issue is reaching the right balance.

It is interesting that nearly every time there is an objection because there is too much screening, there is often a call for even more screening after it is revealed that some crime or offenses occurred or where an inappropriate applicant was hired without a sufficient background check. With all due respects to the JPL scientists, one would assume their position may be different if it ever turned out that a failure to perform background checks resulted in a terrorist hurting the U.S., someone with fake credentials getting hired and obtaining access, or workplace violence occurring that could have been prevented.

For more information about background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Family of Alabama University Shooting Victim Hope Tragedy Leads to More Thorough Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

The fatal shootings of three University of Alabama-Huntsville professors during a faculty meeting by another professor reportedly upset about being denied tenure at the school has shined a bright light on the troublesome issue of workplace violence. The tragedy has also raised concerns about how thoroughly background checks should research the past histories of employees. 

In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, two step-daughters of one victim questioned how the woman arrested and charged in the shooting deaths — Biology professor Amy Bishop, 42 — could get a job working at the school after reports surfaced about violent incidents in Bishop’s past.

ABC News reported that investigators may re-examine the 1986 shooting death of Bishop’s brother at the hands of Bishop, which was ruled accidental at the time, and also revealed that Bishop was a suspect in a mail bombing attempt on a Harvard Medical School professor in 1993. Investigators told ABC that while investigating the bombing they found a novel on Bishop’s computer describing a scientist who had shot her brother.

After learning about Bishop’s alleged violent past, the step-daughters of one victim told Good Morning America that they hoped the shooting would lead to more thorough background checks for the school’s faculty and staff. They also believed Bishop obtained a list of professors who did not vote in favor of her tenure before the shootings, which left three people injured in addition to the three fatalities. 

“Workplace violence” is loosely defined as threats, assaults, and violent acts — including murder — which occur in, or are related to, the workplace. While there is no one cure-all treatment to eliminate the threat of workplace violence, employers should remain vigilant and closely watch all conditions and events in the workplace in order to ensure the safety and security of employees and customers. 

To help prevent workplace violence, employers may choose to initiate a Safe Hiring Program (SHP) that includes a wide range of tools, techniques, and services to help mitigate the risk of hiring or retaining a potentially dangerous employee. Background checks are considered the cornerstone of an effective SHP.

Protecting workers from workplace violence is an essential reason why employers should conduct pre-employment screening — including extensive and far-reaching background checks — on prospective employees. The goal of a Safe Hiring Program is to ensure that employers follow proper procedures during background checks and pay attention while hiring and retaining workers in order to minimize the potential for workplace violence. 

For more information about workplace violence, background checks, and Safe Hiring Programs, please visit  Employment Screening Resources at:  http://www.esrcheck.com. 

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/alabama-university-shooting-suspect-amy-bishop-violent-past/story?id=9839348

Workplace violence and employment screening background checks

An excellent article on how employers can deal with workplace has appeared in the Coshocton Tribune in Ohio.  It was written by Ohio human resources consultant Jim Evans is president of JK Evans & Associates LLC, a Zanesville-based human resources consulting firm. 

The article recounted some recent incidents of workplace violence and reminded employers and managers that they are tools to prevent and deal with workplace violence.  For example, employers should have policies on how to deal with workplace misconduct, and managers should be trained to recognize the warning signs and how to deal with it.  The article also cites due diligent in hiring as an important tool to avoid bad hires and to demonstrate due diligence in hiring.  See: http://www.coshoctontribune.com/article/20091115/NEWS04/911150313 

This article underscores the critical role of pre-employment background screening plays in the hiring process.  For employers, there are a number of resources available to accomplish employment screening.  Setting up a program is very quick and easy, and the cost is minimal compared to just one workplace incident.  As a general rule, screening employees cost less then their first day salary.  In fact, an employer can provide a great deal of protection just by a well designed application, interview and past employment checking process. 

For job applicants, background checks are NOT an invasion of privacy.  The items being checked are what a person has done in their public life, such as where they worked, where they went to school or if there are relevant criminal records. Applicants also have a great deal of rights under federal law to view any report and to correct errors, and must give their specific consent and be advised of their rights.  There are rules about using criminal records unfairly. 

The bottom-line is that workers also want the protection of a safe workplace with qualified co-workers that have the credentials claimed.  More information on how to conduct employment screening and available resources is available at www.ESRcheck.com. A specific game plan for hiring is set out at: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/730/cost-effective-employment-screening-and-safe-hiring-techniques-for-large-employers.

California Case Demonstrates Outer Limits to Negligent Hiring Exposure

The case involved a plumber that was hired in 1999, even though the plumbing company knew the person had been convicted of domestic violence and/or arson involving the plumber’s ex-wife. Four years later, in 2003, the plumber performs a service call at the victim’s home. The plumber and the victim started a relationship that eventually turned romantic in nature.  About a month after the service call with the victim, the plumber was terminated for misuse of a company vehicle, drug and alcohol use and an allegation of threatening a co-worker.

By 2005, the victim apparently had enough and ended the relationship and applied for a restraining order against the plumber. The plumber shot and killed her and was convicted of her murder. Continue reading

Negligent hiring and retention leading causes of employment lawsuits

A recent article in the Connecticut Law Tribune re-enforces what ESR has been telling employers for some time—that lawsuits for negligent hiring and negligent retention are among the most common claims against employers.

Per the articles, “The difference between the hiring and retention claims is when the employer became aware of a threatening employee; often, the arguments are that employers inadequately screened job applicants or failed to act on complaints about an employee who later committed a violent act.”

The story concern workplace violence and employee behavior that can be hostile, threatening or violent.  This can lead to lawsuits seeking damages for emotional distress, a hostile workplace all the way to damages stemming form violence where a person is the victim of a workplace crime.  The article noted that, “In a bad economy, stress increases and people’s fuses get shorter.”

The article cites a study in the 1990s, where “liability expert Norman D. Bates conducted a study that found workplace violence tort cases averaged $500,000 per settlement and a $3 million per jury verdict.”

According to the article:

“The potential for litigation seems to be high, based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics. On average, more than 2 million acts of violence occur in the workplace every year. When it comes to assaults, women are targeted at a much higher rate than men, both in Connecticut and nationally. From 2005-07, the U.S. Department of Labor tracked 1,250 non-fatal workplace assaults in Connecticut, and women were the targets in 77 percent of those cases. On the national level during the same period, women were targeted in 63 percent of the more than 47,000 non-fatal assaults.”

The article discussed that while many employers are focused on preventing workplace homicides, there are many lesser acts of hostility, such as workplace intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment and psychological abuse that can be red flags for future violence that also need to be addressed.

The article suggested solution that employers can utilize to minimize the chances of a lawsuit stemming from workplace hostility and violence.

See:   Taking Aim At Workplace Disputes at http://www.ctlawtribune.com/getarticle.aspx?ID=35073