Column: Looking at workplace violence, story by story

Whether or not workplace violence is actually (statistically) on the rise is anyone's guess, but one thing is for sure, it has a higher profile than it has ever had before. Last week, the story was from the Discovery Channel's headquarters where a madman with explosives strapped to his body took hostages before ultimately being killed by a SWAT officer. This week it was an incident this morning at a Kraft Foods plant where a terminated worker was escorted out, but returned with a handgun and then killed two employees and critically injured a third before she was arrested. Kraft Foods, as you can imagine, is certainly large enough to have a strong corporate security department.

Let's run through some recent incidents (and the number of innocent victims), because I think these are good review material for anyone who handles corporate security:

These are just the high-profile ones I've scanned through since January, but rest assured that there are plenty of other workplace violence incidents which happen every week but which don't make the news.

We've also run some enlightening pieces from workplace violence prevention experts Felix Nater (see interview) and John Byrnes (see column). The summary from most workplace violence experts is that there are procedures being put in place which can help prevent and identify the likelihood of workplace violence incidents. Notice I said "help" prevent, because there is no guarantee that any workplace violence prevention program is going to keep you 100 percent free and clear of an incident.

It does seem that there are three big red flags that we can ascertain from these incidents:

  1. Disgruntled and dismissed employees become workplace shooters.
  2. Domestic spats become workplace violence incidents.
  3. Disgruntled customers become workplace shooters.

With today's incident at the Kraft Foods plant, we can armchair quarterback the incident a little bit. The employee was escorted out after being terminated. Escorting a fired employee could be standard procedure (most likely), or it could have been because the employee exhibited some irrational tendencies (also likely). Either way, it would be prudent to consider placing the security team and all employees on notice anytime there is an employee let go. It seems that disgruntled employees usually effect their violent tendencies immediately if they are going to do so. They exit the building, still angry, remember they have a gun in their car or nearby at home, and then the worst happens.

In the incident at the Connecticut beer distributor, where nine were killed, the assailant had the gun in his possession in the building before he was given his termination meeting. It was suspected that he had it hidden in a lunchbox. What is known is that he brandished it and began shooting following a direct confrontation with evidence of his thefts from the business.

But there is no guarantee that an incident will occur the same day. In the Penske truck rental facility incident that happened near Atlanta, the shooter had been laid off in the summer of 2009, but didn't return until January 2010.

Being that today's incident and a high percentage of workplace violence incidents involve ex-employees, it's clear that the process of how you handle the dismissal of employees is central to critical incident violence prevention. Weigh in with your comments about what you do when dismissing employees in the comments section below.

About the author: Geoff Kohl is editor-in-chief and associate publisher of and has been reporting on corporate security issues since 2004. He is also author of The Security Check blog.