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HR professionals may be in the literal line of fire if a terminated employee returns for revenge, security consultants warn.
Workplace shootings seem to constantly be in the news lately, such as the June 30 rampage at a hospital in the Bronx in which former employee Dr. Henry Bello killed himself and one other person and wounded six. Bello had quit after allegedly being accused of sexual harassment. “There were a lot of red flags with the Bronx case,” Dorian DeSantis, a senior instructor at the Alexandria, Va.-based security consultancy Kiernan Group Holdings, Inc., told Bloomberg BNA July 6.
Kathleen L. Kiernan, founder and CEO of KGH, recommends HR staff and other colleagues take steps to protect themselves against stalking or violent threats from former employees whose termination they carried out.
Start by ensuring ex-employees cannot access their former workplace, she told Bloomberg BNA in a July 6 email. “All keys, magnetic keycards and ID cards should be collected from the employee at the time of dismissal, and all email and IT access terminated, including remote-access logons.”
Employers often forget about the remote logons, DeSantis said. He was one of the first responders to the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013, which killed 12 people.
He and Kiernan said current employees should receive strict instructions not to allow former employees back on the premises without permission from HR or senior management. Employees also should be told not to share information with their former colleagues about work projects or terminations. Current employees’ personal information must also be kept away from ex-employees, they said.
In particular, DeSantis said, “receptionists are in the front line and need to be trained in how to deal with the return of a fired employee.”
On the day an employee is terminated follow “special precautions” if there are “red flags” that the person may be violent, Kiernan said. “These include subtle or overt threats, stated grievances, comments about retaliation and/or an inability to seek other employment, or comments about desperation.”
Vigilance is vital after the ex-employee leaves the company. “Managers involved in terminations of persons whose behavior is of concern should take prudent steps for their personal safety,” Matthew Doherty, senior vice president of security risk management for Chicago-based security firm Hillard Heintze, told Bloomberg BNA in a July 6 email.
The employer can engage a security firm to monitor social media for signs the ex-employee is displaying “escalating animosity toward the company” or “unusual interest” in current employees, possibly escalating toward stalking. That “is a very serious behavior,” Doherty said. “We consider stalking as an attack-related behavior, much more serious than making a threat on social media.”
Also to be watched for on social media, he said, are signs that the ex-employee is stockpiling weapons or is interested in mass murder or active shooters. Managers involved in terminations should have appropriate levels of privacy settings on their own social media accounts. And if an ex-employee who has raised red flags is seen around the premises, receptionists and security should know to call police, Doherty said.
“In cases of particular concern, contact local police at your residence on your concerns,” he added. “Local police in stalking cases need to establish a pattern of behavior before they can take action, so the sooner you can document your concerns with your local police, the better.”
Consistent training is crucial, especially because front-line positions often undergo high turnover, Kiernan said. Companies should be “developing a program focused on early detection of suspicious mindsets and behaviors by current and former employees who might embark on a pathway to violence,” including setting up “a threat assessment team” and having an “emergency response plan” in place.
Such plans and preparations don’t have to trigger paranoia, but can instead be more like fire drills, DeSantis said.
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Further reading on workplace violence threats is available at https://kiernan.co/sites/default/files/KGH PWP Checklists_TM_Edited.pdf and https://kiernan.co/active-threat-intelligence-digest.
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