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University of Alabama shooting: What could have been done to keep staff safe?

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in Employment Background Check,Employment Law,Firing,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Preventing Workplace Violence

University of Alabama Professor accused of fatally shooting three colleagues and wounding three others.

Last week's headlines of the newest workplace shooting serve as a stark reminder to employers of their legal obligations to ensure their staff is safe and free from violence — but how?

Early reports suggest that alleged shooter Amy Bishop Anderson opened fire on her colleagues during a routine faculty meeting after being denied a tenure position at the university.

Firings and work-related stress are among the top triggers of on-the-job violence.

What's worse: New reports reveal that Anderson shot and killed her brother in 1986, but the shooting was ruled accidental. Could the previous shooting indicate a history of violence?

How liable is the University of Alabama for hiring a professor with a violent background? What steps should employers take to help ensure that their staff is safe from violence by current — and former — employees?

The ability to hire and fire legally and safely isn't a mysterious art ... it's a step-by-step science. Learn how with this essential HR and manager training session: The Psychology of Hiring and Firing: Hire Smart, Fire Smart for a Safe, Productive Workforce

What Does the Law Say About Employer Liability?

Employees who commit violent acts in the workplace obviously violate state criminal laws. But the liability trail doesn't stop there.

Employers have a legal obligation to maintain a safe work environment for employees and customers. If employees "go bad," the organization could face a negligent hiring or negligent supervision lawsuit if it could have or should have prevented the violent act.

That means you should run background checks to ferret out applicants most likely to commit violence. But beware a host of state and federal laws relating to hiring or investigating workplace violence.

What's Missing from Background Checks?

While it's vital to perform background checks, realize that key information is often left off, especially with online reference-checking services. That's because many jurisdictions lack money or manpower to maintain electronic conviction records. And youthful offender records are usually expunged at age 18. So it's easy for a violent applicant to hide his past.

If you hire or fire employees, your success or failure as Gatekeeper critically affects not only your group's long-term organizational goals but everyone's day-to-day functioning.

You take a big risk when you hire a new face. And if your hopes for that person are disappointed by bad work habits (or strange social habits), you face an even bigger risk in deciding to cut them loose.

Get this need-to-know training on The Psychology of Hiring and Firing: Hire Smart, Fire Smart for a Safe, Productive Workforce

If you don't spot a violent person before he joins the payroll, it's important to react quickly once violent tendencies appear. Employees who argue loudly or engage in other disruptive behavior should be disciplined.

What's to Fear in 'Zero Tolerance'?

Some employers have a "zero tolerance policy," where any infraction means termination. In most cases, that's not a good policy. Giving employees an opportunity to cool down teaches them more about handling anger than enraging them with a pink slip. Also, you'll set yourself up for a discrimination suit if a star employee blows his top one time, but you don't act.

Finally, you should thoroughly document all disciplinary decisions. Manage those documents in accordance with federal laws.

In this upbeat and compelling recording — with presentation materials — psychologist and trainer Dennis Davis explains the answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the No. 1 mistake interviewers make?
  • Which screening tests are vital, and which can you let slide?
  • How can you spot an applicant with violent tendencies?
  • What counts most during interviews: words or voice/facial cues?
  • What’s the best (yes, it’s legal!) way to extract revealing information from interviewees?
  • How can you gain the psychological advantage when firing difficult employees?
  • Who should be in the room during termination meetings?
  • Where should you sit during the meeting?
  • What steps should you take immediately if things turn ugly?
  • Which key phrases are most effective for preventing lawsuits?


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