Employers should have robust workplace conduct policies

July 13, 2017

The recent shooting at a New York hospital by a former employee is yet another act of violence in a string of workplace violence incidents this year.

While acts of workplace violence are relatively uncommon, employers need to learn to identify the signs of a potentially violent employee and take action to remove the person without delay.

While the details are still coming out, the reported shooter was a former employee, whose employment terminated about two years earlier for his interactions with staff.

One former coworker told the New York Post that the shooter had a problem with almost everybody. He had been charged previously for violence against women. Reports are that he was living in a homeless shelter just prior to the shooting.

Two hours before he committed the acts of violence at his former workplace, he sent a local newspaper an email stating that the hospital terminated his “road to a licensure to practice medicine,” because of an altercation with a nurse.

He was disputing the interaction, telling the newspaper that he only told the nurse he would be there to see the patient’s family “in a minute but she felt I was rude to her.” He called the complaints against him “bogus.”

The shooter most likely wasn’t called out for a single rude communication. Employers must understand that the longer an employee’s behavior goes unaddressed, the worse it will be when the organization finally addresses the conduct because the person becomes more vested in the organization.

Every organization should first implement robust Code of Conduct and Workplace Violence Prevention policies explaining your organization’s expectations for workplace behavior and communications.

If any employee acts inappropriate, erratic, threatening or disruptive, the employee should receive immediate discipline, ideally in the form of a final written warning. Do not ignore the problem or give a verbal warning.

When you address employee behaviors, you are looking for an indication that the employee is remorseful, apologetic and accountable. If so, then it may just be a misunderstanding or the employee may be temporarily going through a rough personal or other situation, however the final warning should stand regardless.

Sometimes, employees will deflect, disagree, remain disruptive and fail to accept any accountability. In these situations, the employee needs to be removed from the organization as soon as possible.

When terminating an employee who may have a propensity for violence, the employee needs to feel he or she has been treated fairly, with respect, even to the point of leading the employee to believe that this is not his or her  fault.

While it might seem counter intuitive, I suggest providing some form of transition pay to employees like this.

In addition, employers should not object to unemployment compensation. The employee should walk away feeling like he got the best of the company, and he won.

Employers should attempt a cordial and respectful parting of ways, whereby the company explains to the employee it is just a business decision based on the finances of the company, or something to that effect.

I acknowledge that this approach seems entirely unfair, and inconsistent with how anyone else would be treated. What I am suggesting might happen one time in the history of your organization.

These are very rare cases, but when you have one, you have to treat it uniquely and with care.

Many former workers return two and three years after the termination to commit violence.

This typically occurs when the former worker’s life fell apart after the termination, and the person will blame your organization for his life’s demise.

Try to keep up with the former employee via social media to see signs of progress or deterioration of the person’s personal and work life to evaluate whether the former worker is an ongoing threat.