Workplace violence events can occur anywhere, and they typically happen at the worst possible time, when you are least expecting it. The key is to put processes in place so bad behaviour can be detected before something happens. Past behaviour is an indicator of future actions. We see this repeatedly when engaged by clients. A person rarely acts out inappropriately just one time, and if it is not corrected, it will escalate. Events can often trigger acts of violence, and they can stem from inside or outside the workplace. You need to be aware of these triggers. It could be a sick child at home, the death of a loved one or being overlooked for a promotion. These trigger events along with the smallest incident at work can set off the perfect storm.
We recently had a client contact us to support them with an incident. It was a major insurance company with an individual in sales who was not performing as he usually does. On the surface, the employee appeared normal. During a meeting to discuss his performance, the employee became verbally aggressive, and it was decided to end his employment. The employee left and went home, and his personal belongs were gathered and shipped to his residence. Most cases stop at this point, but this was only the beginning.
The individual threatened two senior executives, one based in Toronto and the second in Calgary. The threats were serious in nature, and the police had to be notified. The employee lived in the Toronto area, which meant the threat to the Toronto executive was taken more seriously. It happened on a Friday at approximately 5 p.m., but the police indicated they would not be able to start the case until the following week.
The company’s human resources department contacted our corporate security team for support. They first conducted a social media and open source investigation. We needed to gather information and determine what type of person the client was dealing with. We quickly concluded that the individual had a dark side. His social media profile provided a treasure trove of data relating to drug use as well as threatening and aggressive posts. Armed with this information, we recommended that the individual should be under surveillance to examine his movements and provide an early warning to the executive and his family as well as the workplace. Also, security officers were placed at the executive’s home.
Throughout the weekend, the employee continued to post threats on social media. The threats were not specifically directed at the executives or the company, but it was clear that the employee was not dealing with the situation rationally. Our surveillance team followed the employee to some bars and feared he would act out after consuming alcohol. The executive and his family went out of town to further minimize the risk. All social media information was harvested and stored as evidence. The client passed this information onto the police, and the ex-employee was charged.
The employer will need to continue to monitor this individual’s social media as well as ensure the security of their employees, workplace, and the executive involved. Although the situation has calmed down, the former employee could be triggered by something and act out aggressively in the future. We typically ask clients to be extra vigilant surrounding key dates such as date of birth, date of hire, date of termination, etc. They often can be triggered to act out in and around important dates.
Lesson learned! The company had policies for dealing with discipline meetings and terminations, but they were not followed. In addition, having a social media investigation done prior can be very helpful. The client could have known that their employee was using drugs and had an anger management issue.
A company’s ability to be proactive and prepared is vital when your employees’ safety is at risk. If you would like a copy of our ‘Workplace Violence Planning Guide’, click here.