There are few events that can shake an organization as much as workplace violence, and a mass shooting is the most traumatic of all for everyone involved. Our counseling and training practices strive to help prevent such tragedies, but on rare occasions we are engaged by an employer to assist after the worst has happened.
Out of Tragedy, a Successful Turnaround
Those situations test every facet of our knowledge and experience, from understanding the related behavioral and personnel factors, to working with organizational leaders and trauma-informed counselors to determine the best multi-disciplinary response to an incident that resonates far beyond the four walls of the involved facility.
The employer seeking our assistance had what is now an all too familiar story: after over 25 years of seemingly satisfactory employment, a current employee, not under discipline, walked into his workplace and systematically killed three co-workers, injured five more, then took his own life. And as always happens in the wake of such a horrific event, the questions plagued organizational leaders: what was his motivation, what warning signs were missed, was there anything that could have been done to prevent this devastation, what short- and mid-term actions had to be taken to help the survivors cope with the psychological trauma, and what could be done to prevent what, at first blush, seemed random and unpredictable from happening again?
A Simmering Pot
Hirschfeld Kraemer partner Glen Kraemer served as lead legal counsel over a multi-disciplinary task force assigned to answer all these questions. He worked alongside forensic investigators who examined every minute of the perpetrator’s actions – and the individuals he encountered along the way – to understand the security elements associated with the tragedy. And they turned their attention to the employee’s personal and professional history, uncovering what became a clear “pathway to violence” that the subject had started down over two years prior to the shooting.
A picture of the perpetrator began to emerge – transitioning from an engaged and responsive employee, integrated within the corporate culture, to an individual standing apart, withdrawn, increasingly aggressive, barely controlling frustration over what he perceived as unjust treatment in being denied a promotion two years prior. In this case, however, the subject’s quantitative performance – maintaining level of production and output – had met standards, and thus the behavioral issues had been suffered by the plant supervisors. Perhaps understandably, the employer did not believe they had the legal autonomy to approach the employee and intervene on what were minimized as “social interactions” in a manufacturing environment.
Creation of Threat Management Team and Workplace Violence Prevention Training Curriculum
Following the investigation, Hirschfeld Kraemer was engaged to help create the company’s Threat Management Team, a multi-disciplinary group drawn from human resources, safety and security, legal, risk management, operations and facilities, labor relations, and communications; among the many important duties, this team was charged with responsibility for conducting a violence vulnerability audit, development of threat assessment and intervention protocols, enhancement of emergency response procedures, and creation and deployment of the company’s workplace violence prevention training curriculum.
Fourteen months after the tragic shooting, Glen trained the last of the company’s 1,000 managers; he had educated supervisory employees and key decision-makers through the delivery of 45 half-day seminars in 26 facilities arrayed over 17 states. As with the numerous private and public sector employers that have engaged Glen to conduct warning sign, risk factor, and intervention training, the overarching message remains the same: excellent leadership and managerial communication skills significantly enhance the likelihood that warning signs will be identified early on, and that an employer will have opportunities to identify and intervene with a “troubled” employee long before they evolve into a dangerous “troubling” individual.