“If I get one more write-up, if you think they had a problem in Virginia, it’ll be worse here."
When an employee of Suffolk County (N.Y.) Community College spewed that reference to the Virginia Tech massacre during an argument with his supervisor, the supervisor quickly called police. Police charged the man with harassment and criminal possession of a weapon after he admitted owning a bolt-action shotgun. And the man was fired.
That wasn’t an isolated incident. In the weeks following the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, employers around the country have tried to figure out how to deal with “copycat comments” from employees.
Example: A SeaWorld employee in Florida told co-workers he idolized the Virginia Tech shooter and that he wanted to “do what happened at Virginia Tech here at SeaWorld.” His employer promptly fired him and called police. The 20-year-old employee later said he was joking.
Similarly, certain employers have had to deal with what’s been called the “Imus virus,” people who repeat the infamous last words of radio shock jock Don Imus, always with equally dismal results.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, three female police officers filed a federal harassment lawsuit after a sergeant rallied them during roll call with “Stand up, hos.” To which another officer added Imus’s infamous phrase, “They’re not just hos, they’re nappy-headed hos.”
Advice: In today’s environment, you can’t shrug off such “jokes” or threats. It pays to take such comments seriously. Encourage employees to come forward with concerns about comments made by employees. And respond decisively when employees make such comments or when they act erratically.