Office threat shows violence is still a risk


Deseret Morning News, Tuesday, August 10, 2004 (Salt Lake City, Utah)

By Jesse Hyde

OREM - An upset employee at an Orem telemarketing firm stormed out of work Wednesday and threatened to return with a gun.

Fortunately for workers at Convergys, 745 Technology Ave., the woman never made good on her threat.

Utah Valley has already had two workplace shootings this year. In January, a construction worker in Lehi is accused of shooting and killing his boss. One month later an employee at the Provo River Water Users Association allegedly shot and killed his boss in Pleasant Grove.

While workplace violence has actually declined over the past decade, it remains a serious problem, both locally and nationally.

In an average week, one employee is killed and 25 are seriously injured nationally in violent assaults by current or former co-workers, according to recent reports.

Homicide ranks as the second-leading cause of death at work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Often, workplace violence can be prevented. According to a USA Today report that examined 224 instances of fatal workplace violence, nearly 80 percent of killers leave behind warning signs.

Those signs are usually ignored, however.

"It's hard to know what to do, because it's a life and death situation," said Bruce Blythe, CEO of Atlanta-based Crisis Management International. "If you don't call the police, you may be in danger, and if you do, you may provoke the situation. It's like playing with fire."

Blythe's firm works with some 100 companies a year who have become aware of a threat from an employee. He said workers can snap for any number of reasons, including stress, anger over wages, termination or mental health issues. Some disgruntled workers make specific threats, as the girl in Orem did, others issue vague warnings of pending violence.

Regardless of the threat, Blythe said employers should take it seriously.

He recommends three precautions for any business:

Establish a policy that any threat, whether from an employee or a customer, is responded to, and develop a way for employees to report it. Ensure employees that the information will be held confidential.

"I can't tell you the number of incidents where people say they just had a gut feeling this guy or that girl was going to snap," Blythe said. "They should know exactly who to call and who to contact."

Form a crisis response team to deal with threats. The team could consist of representatives from the human resources department, the legal department and the security department.

"How do you defuse a threatening environment? How do you follow up? Do you terminate or intervene first? These are questions that should be addressed," Blythe said.

Consult with an expert. Some consultants can work as counselors with employees who feel they were terminated unfairly. Others can help establish a crisis response plan.

Convergys declined comment about Wednesday's incident, to which police responded. The employee, who was found by police shortly after making the threat, said she reacted in anger and never intended to carry it out.