Shooting at Walmart increases the need for workplace violence prevention

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The mass shoot Wednesday at a Walmart in Virginia was just the latest example of a workplace shooting committed by an employee.

But while many companies provide active shooting training, experts say there is much less focus on preventing workplace violence, particularly on identifying and addressing behavior of concern among employees.

Far too often, employees don’t know how to recognize warning signs, and more importantly, they don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to workplace safety and human resources experts.

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“We’ve built an industry around shutting out the bad guys. We’ve invested heavily in physical security measures like metal detectors, cameras, and armed guards,” said James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in DePaul, Minnesota and co-founder of the nun. -profit and nonpartisan research group The Violence Project. All too often in workplace shootings, he would say, “this is someone who already has access to the building.”

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The Walmart shooting in particular raised the question of whether employees feel empowered to speak out because it was a team leader who carried out the shooting.


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Walmart identified the shooter as 31-year-old Andre Bing, who had worked for Walmart since 2010 and whose most recent position at the Chesapeake, Virginia store, was “team leader overnight,” according to the company. Police say he opened fire on colleagues in the break room, killing six people and leaving six others injured before apparently killing himself.

Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said the shooter did not appear to be aiming at anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she never had a negative encounter with him, but others told her he was “the manager to watch out for”. She said Bing had a history of writing people up for no reason.

Two of the deceased victims were identified by family members as Tyneka Johnson, 22, and Brian Pendleton, 39. The city of Chesapeake identified the remaining adult victims Wednesday night as Lorenzo Gamble, Kellie Pyle, Randall Blevins. The identity of the sixth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was kept secret because he was a minor, the city said.

Policy change after the 2019 shootings

Walmart launched a computer-based active shooter training in 2015, which focused on three pillars: avoiding the danger, keeping your distance and finally defending. Then in 2019, after a mass shooting at a store in El Paso, Texas, in which an outside shooter killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by stopping sales of certain types of ammunition and asking customers to stop openly carrying firearms in its stores. It now only sells shotguns and related ammunition.

Walmart did not specifically respond to requests for more details on Wednesday about its training and protocols to protect its own employees. The company said only that it routinely reviews its training policies and will continue to do so.

Densley said employers should create open channels for employees to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential hotlines. He noted that too often attention is focused on the “red flags” and that employees should look for the “yellow flags” — subtle behavioral changes, such as increased anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers should work with those individuals to give them advice and check in regularly.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s active-shooting manual states that personnel officers have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting signs of potentially violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors such as increased absenteeism and repeated violations of company policies.

But many employers may not have such a prevention policy, says Liz Peterson, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 HR professionals.


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She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they did not know if their organization had policies to prevent workplace violence, and another 9% said they had no such programs . That’s in contrast to the 57% of HR managers who said they had received training to respond to violence.

A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have risen in recent years, though they are still down sharply from a peak in the mid-2000s. the nineties.

Drop in homicides at work

The latest Walmart attack was the second major mass shooting in the US in recent days. Five people were killed and another 17 wounded when a suspicious person opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the early hours of the morning on Sunday.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of workplace homicides nationwide rose 11% from 409 to 454. That was still 58% down from a peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report released by the ministries in July of Labour, Justice and Public Health and Human Services. The report found that workplace homicide trends were broadly consistent with national homicide trends.

But the spike in mass public shootings in the country is raising employers’ awareness of the need to address workplace mental health and prevent violence — and of the liabilities employers could incur if they ignore warning signs, Peterson said .

In one high-profile example, the family of a victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Northern California Transportation Agency earlier this year alleging it failed to address the history of threatening behavior of an employee who shot and killed nine colleagues at a a light rail yard in San Jose in 2021.

The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing that the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, had been the subject of four workplace conduct investigations, and an employee feared that Cassidy would “go to the mail to go”. That phrase stems from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in U.S. history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.

“Violence at work is a situation you never think will happen to your organization until it happens, and unfortunately it is important to prepare for it as they become more common,” said Peterson.

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