This article originally appeared in Nevada Business Magazine’s Legal Opinions Special Reports, October 1, 2019.
We live in an active shooter era. Society increasingly sees mass shootings as commonplace. The workplace is far from immune from this broader trend. Since 2006, there have been 11 workplace mass killings—defined as four or more people killed— resulting in the loss of 90 lives altogether. Active shooters in the workplace that do not result in mass killings are also on the rise.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that workplace shootings increased more than 10 percent in recent years. And the trajectory only goes one way, with almost half of the “active shooter” incidents in the early 2000’s having occurred in the workplace, a far greater percentage than any other category.
The threat of workplace shootings is an unfortunate emerging issue employers face. It should not be overblown; workplace killings are rare compared to other forms of workplace violence. But the low likelihood that your company will fall victim to a rogue and disgruntled employee does not mean that your company should avoid pre-emptively dealing with the problem. Preparation and a plan are essential for the workplace to stay safe and for you, as the employer, to lower the risk that your company will become the next victim to an active shooter.
Be on the lookout for warning signs. There is a litany of indicators that a person may pose a risk to workplace violence. These include verbal statements of intent to harm co-workers, evidence that an employee intended to sabotage a fellow co-worker, an employee who shows an apparent obsession with a supervisor or coworker, and a number of other potential red flags to look for. Too often, an employer’s first reaction to a sign an employee may commit workplace violence is to justify the behavior within whatever workplace culture the employer has developed. In an active shooter era, the employer must do more. It is important to consider policies and procedures to address these concerns as soon as they arise. Employers should consider developing or updating their workplace violence prevention strategies, policies and practices.
The prevention strategy should seek to identify disgruntled employees and create a clear process for alerting management of any potential problems. The policies should help maintain a healthy culture of support to prevent employees from reaching a depth that could push towards violence, encourage help for employees at risk, and ensure employees know what to do if there is an active shooter on the premises. These practices should help ensure that these strategies and policies are abided by the employees and management of a company.
Employers need to be conscious of their duties to prepare for an active shooter. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), employers have a general duty to protect employees from workplace hazards. This means that if there is a threat of workplace violence, or any indication of workplace shooting, an employer has a general duty to help minimize that risk. An employer’s failure to abide by this general duty could expose it to immense liability and threaten the entire future of the company.
Regardless of one’s view on the political solution, companies should have set in place a number of practical solutions in order to keep their workplace safe. Employers need to be vigilant and proactive. Company employees will appreciate the efforts. It may be the most important thing to maintaining a safe workplace. Proper planning and training can help a company stay safe in this active shooter era.