Violence at work


                                    Why every employer should be concerned


                                                     Marsha Austin

                                              Business Journal Staff Reporter


      On Aug. 24, 1995, Robin Tally followed a former Tele-Communications Inc. of Colorado co-worker to a Lakewood

      apartment complex and fired six shots into her body at close range, killing her instantly. Tamera Krizman -- a rare

      female success in the male-dominated profession of cable line work -- tragically became another victim of

      workplace violence.


      According to psychologist and violence-prevention consultant John Nicoletti, work-related crimes are the leading

      on-the-job cause of death for women and the second leading cause for men. With violent incidents in the workplace

      rising, employers face substantial liability risks and the added cost of implementing violence-prevention programs.

      The key is to be prepared before violence strikes.


      "A violence-protection plan is much like insurance," said Charles Carroll, chief executive officer of the security

      consulting firm ASET Corp. "You don't know how important it is until you need it."


      Organizations such as ASET Corp. and Mountain States Employers Council Inc. are striving to provide employers

      with training and advice on recognizing and handling the type of behavior that lead to Tamera Krizman's murder

      before it goes too far.


      Both Krizman and Tally began working for TCI in February 1994. By May 1995, Krizman was regularly surpassing

      Tally in performance reviews and driving a new company truck. Tally, presumably jealous of his female co-worker's

      success, had pushed conflicts with managers and colleagues to the point of being dismissed for violating company



      During the months preceding the murder, Tally made several requests for re-employment at TCI, harassed Krizman

      with phone calls and stalking, and threatened to "take matters into his own hands" if he were to see her working

      near his home. When another TCI worker went to Tally's house to retrieve uniforms and equipment, Tally asked if

      guns made him nervous and bragged that he had an illegal weapon. Piles of munitions were located in his



      Tally, now serving a life sentence without parole, demonstrated many of the characteristics that can tip employers off

      to impending acts of violence. Nicoletti said employers should look out for people who:


         ·         are fascinated with guns and frequently discuss firearms;

         ·         demonstrate erratic driving habits;

         ·         have a history of perceived injustices, filing numerous grievances or lawsuits;

         ·         make verbal threats -- 99 percent of all offenders tell someone before they act;

         ·         induce minor property damage such as scratching cars, sabotaging office equipment, and throwing objects

            in the workplace; and

         ·         are frequently absent or depressed


      But workplace violence doesn't always manifest itself in the extreme. More subtle acts such as pushing, shoving,

      screaming, yelling, intimidating and throwing objects are considered violent acts in a business setting.


      Domestic disputes are also making their way into the workplace as the fastest-growing category of workplace

      violence. Sexual harassment and stalking now comprise approximately 25 percent of all work-related crimes.


      On Sept. 4 in Denver, according to police reports, a 16-year-old girl allegedly was tied-up with plastic bags, hit in the

      head five times with a hammer, and sexually assaulted by a 28-year-old Subway co-worker. The worker was

      previously convicted of sexual assault and was out on parole, said John Wyckoff of the Denver Police Department.


      When the worker was hired by Subway, no background check was made, so his employer, Gary Newcomb, was

      unaware of his prior offense.


      "He was always helpful, quiet, polite and respectful," said Newcomb. "He didn't exhibit any signs of violence."


      Newcomb explained that in the food-service industry, high employee turnover and the need to hire quickly makes

      waiting for background checks implausible.


      And "small businesses can't afford the expense," he added.


      How much would a background check cost Newcomb?


      "I don't know," he admitted.


      According to Stacy Wagner of Background Information Services, a criminal background search covering Colorado

      felony and misdemeanor convictions in county courts costs $7. An out-of-state search takes only two to three days

      and costs $9 to $16 per county. A search of workers compensation claim runs about $12.


      Domestic violence-related crimes also receive the least amount of attention from employers.


      "Companies perceive the problem as personal instead of a corporate problem," said Nicoletti.


      Drugs and alcohol can also contribute to violent behavior at work.


      "Drug and alcohol abuse typically is a key indicator of violence. The two go hand in hand," said J.T. Stewart of ASET

      Corp. But he warns the symptoms may be difficult to spot.


      "A cocaine user can actually function very well in the work force. The drug is a stimulant so [the user] may be doing

      his work, your work ... you probably think he's your best employee."


      To provide a safe working environment and deal with potentially volatile situations before they occur, there are

      several precautions consultants recommend employers take:


         ·         Run a thorough background check on prospective employees, including the prospects' criminal records,

            driving records and credit histories. Also check references of former employers.

         ·         Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of potentially violent employees.

         ·         Learn to communicate properly during conflict mediation.

         ·         Be aware of potential "trigger events" such as reprimanding, firing or denying benefits to employees.

         ·         Provide in-house psychological and drug counseling services to employees.

         ·         Limit access to the facility by using an entrance code or card key system.


      If the threat of violence is eminent, businesses can require an employee to undergo a violence risk assessment. If

      termination of employment is required to ensure a safe work environment, Nicoletti suggests employers hire

      off-duty police officers to patrol the place of business for two weeks after firing a volatile employee.


      Disgruntled ex-employees often return to their former workplace to resolve past grievances in violent ways. The

      security industry itself is not immune to attack.


      Former APG Security employee Frank Vasquez goes to trial this month on charges of first-degree assault for

      allegedly tossing drain cleaner into a co-worker's face, causing serious chemical burns.


      Whether Vasquez resigned or was fired from APG Security is in dispute, said prosecuting attorney Brian McHugh,

      and APG officials said they were unable to comment on employee-employer relations.


      What is certain is that Vasquez has a record of prior offenses. In July, he plead guilty to slashing the tires of APG's

      security trucks, a charge brought in January. In 1993, Vasquez was convicted of battery.


      A thorough background check or awareness of violence indicators may have saved APG and its employees the time,

      money and anguish involved in workplace attacks.


      © 1997, The Denver Business Journal