In the wake of the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood tragedy that left 13 dead and 42 wounded, employers can learn an important lesson about not ignoring the warning signs of workplace violence. Apparently military psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan had shown warning signs for years even since his residency in medical school. However, no one picked up on these or recognized them. Understanding how to recognize the warning signs of workplace violence is an important step that employers can take to avoid workplace violence.
What types of warning signs are there?
In this case, apparently there were many. For instance, the fact that Hasan had many communications with a suspected terrorist advisor, Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Anway al-Awlaki was allegedly a “spiritual advisor” to some of the terrorists and hijackers involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Apparently, the military looked into these communications but then decided they were not important since violence or terrorist plots were not mentioned. In addition, a former classmate of Hasan’s who attended school with him in Maryland for two years described him as a “ticking time bomb” and stated that when he was a student in Maryland he gave a presentation justifying sucicide bombings. Hasan also reportedly told this classmate that he is a Muslim first and then an American.
In addition, there were many warning signs in the months immediately leading up to the shooting spree that were ignored by all. Apparently, at the Mosque that he attended he made many comments to Congregants at the Mosque stating that Muslims should not have to be in the military and go over seas to fight against other Muslims in the War on Terror. He had also complained to many about his upcoming deployment because he did not feel comfortable going overseas to fight other Muslims.
All of these signs were unfortunately missed by the Military. Had they taken the time to notice them and perhaps connected the dots, they might have seen that Hasan was on the verge of engaging in this violent massacre.
The next day in Orlando, Florida another workplace shooting took place. This one by Jason Rodriguez who also had many of the warning signs. Mr. Rodriguez had been fired from his engineering firm, Reynolds Smith & Hills more than two years ago. He obviously was quite upset about his termination and told a reporter who asked him why he had done this that it was “because they left me to rot”. Apparently, he had never forgotten the anger nor moved on from the resentment caused by his termination. In addition, his marriage had ended, he could not pay the child support for his son, his home was taken in foreclosure and he had to declare bankruptcy. Faced with all of these stresses, Mr. Rodriguez was driven over the edge and on November 6, 2006 walked into his former office and began shooting, killing one and wounding five other employees. His neighbors and mother had noticed that he had in recent weeks become dishelved but again no one had done anything about some of the warning signs he showed. In fact, in many of the workplace violence cases, investigators have always reported that there were telltale signs prior to the violence that should have been noticed by others. The gunman at Virgina Tech was a loner who rarely spoke to others. This is a clear warning sign of a person that might be prone to engage in such violence. He also had been found to be a danger to himself and others by a public agency but no one did anything about this.
What are some of the warning signs that employers should watch out for?
Employees who display any or some of the following warning signs may be more likely to engage in some sort of violence at work.
• Confrontational Attitude
• Talking about an attack
• Paranoid thoughts
• Threatening Co-Workers
• Threatening Bosses
• Showing guns or bragging about guns to Co-workers
• Harassment of Other Employees
• Showing Signs of Substance Abuse
• Aggressive Behavior
• Unusual Behavior
• Being a Loner
• Excessive Cursing
• Bullying Others
• Outbursts of Anger
• Frequent Absenteeism
• Sudden Withdrawal
Warning signs are important for employers to not ignore because they signal that the employee may be on the verge of “losing it” and if the employer were to step in and help they might be able to avoid an instance of violence in their workplace. Employers should have Workplace Violence Prevention Policies and provide training to their employees on workplace violence prevention. These training seminars can help train employees to be aware of the warning signs of workplace violence and will help educate employees on ways to make the workplace safer. The efforts that employers put in to avoiding workplace violence can go a long way to protecting their employees and workplaces from unnecessary violence.
Melissa Fleischer, Esq.
President and Founder
HR Learning Center LLC