As we as a nation try to come to grips with another senseless mass shooting, I was struck by just what the leaders and employees of the company in Odessa, TX must be dealing with regarding whether a termination event could possibly have triggered such an atrocity. They must also be thinking “what if”, as in “what if instead of a random shooting spree he just returned to the company and opened fire here?”
Like you, I don’t have any answers here. I also don’t intend to shift this into a blog for or against gun rights. Instead, I want to focus on making sure that we as HR and Business Leaders are planning ahead to make sure we can take all possible steps to prevent such an atrocity in our company or community. In this case, even with the slim information released there are things we can learn.
#1. His behavior didn’t just “snap” on Saturday. There were warning signs.
According to FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs, “He was on a long spiral of going down,” Combs said. “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble.”
While we rightly are not aware of what led to the firing, we do know they were concerned enough about the situation to have called 911. Whether this was due to the employee not leaving the facility or due to a perceived threat we do not know. It is possible the entire termination was due to reading the warning signs. Regardless, it seems likely someone noticed the behavior and was concerned.
“If you see something…say something”.
Now is the time to make sure that employees understand the importance of reporting concerns to management or their HR representative.
#2. This also applies to those who might harm themselves.
Don’t just limit it to people we think are capable of violence against others. One of my clients had a recent situation where an employee made a comment to a supervisor about committing suicide. Fortunately, the supervisor immediately brought it to HR leadership. While the employee had a history of making statements like this and “acting depressed”, they made the immediate decision to call 911 and took the situation very seriously.
While your first reaction might be “that seems drastic”, ask yourself the question: “What if we didn’t do anything and they were serious?”. I know, this requires some discernment, and depending on whether you have an EAP or other resources you can tap is an important consideration. The key point is to make sure you take appropriate preventative action and not just dismiss the situation.
#3. Your managers and employees need trained
This isn’t so much of a formal training (like CPR, for example), but rather having healthy discussions about acceptable workplace behavior and the right path to escalate concerns. You want a culture that fosters this caring and concern within the workforce. Let them know you won’t tolerate workplace violence or harassment. Key is to ensure they feel comfortable raising issues before they become critical.
#4. If you still aren’t concerned, think about it from a liability standpoint
While I didn’t want the focus of this discussion to be on the bottom line, there is also the standpoint of potential liability. It isn’t a real stretch to believe that at some point the victims or families of victims will pursue civil action, and I would expect the company will be dragged into the case. Claims may be made asserting the company knew and didn’t take appropriate action. In this case the fact they called 911 is positive as they alerted authorities. Still, potential liability is all dependent upon a court of law.
As in any HR situation, make sure you are documenting and reporting actions taken to protect you and your employees.
Wrapping it up
Sorry for such a heavy topic. Unfortunately, workplace violence and mass shootings have now become the norm, and as employers we have an obligation to our employees to keep them safe in the workplace. Remember, we live in a world where our children go through active shooter drills in their schools. Taking the time to make sure your employees know how and when to escalate concerns may help you avoid being the next company in the news and prevent another act of senseless violence.
“If you see something…say something”.
Chris Thomas, SHRM-SCP is the Principal Consultant with The CTCS Group in Canton, GA. The CTCS Group is focused on providing HR Leadership, Behavioral Assessments, and Consulting to help small businesses grow and thrive. You can subscribe to this blog or request a free consultation at www.thectcsgroup.com.
Disclaimer: The information and recommendations provided in this document should not be considered legal advice and should not substitute for legal advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. Recommendations are provided based on good faith assessment and interpretation of the available legal and regulatory resources.