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Bauer Business Focus

Jackie Ford On Preventing Workplace Violence

What what steps can employers take to identify potentially violent employees before they become a threat?


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Photo of Jackie Ford
Gail Delaughter
Jackie Ford, partner, Vorys

The recent on-air murder of TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia has thrown a spotlight on the problem of workplace violence. The murderer, Vester Lee Flanagan, was a former coworker of Parker and Ward at WDBJ, Roanoake's CBS affiliate. Jackie Ford is an attorney specializing in labor and employment law and a partner with the Houston office of the Vorys law firm. She joins Andrew Schneider on this week's installment of the Bauer Business Focus.



What are some red flags that employers can look for in the hiring stage that might help employers head off a situation like the murders of Parker and Ward?

"The number one thing... is to do a reference check on the people that you hire... The second thing you do is a criminal background check... The third thing you can do is a Google check... [In this last approach,] you're going to find information about things you're not allowed to ask about in the interview. So you have to have a way up front of culling that information out before the decision maker sees it."

What sort of warning signs can or should an employer look for to distinguish an employee simply displaying unpleasant behavior from one who may pose an actual danger to fellow employees?

"Psychiatrists and workplace psychologists will tell you that there is no single profile of a violent workplace offender... and because most of us as employers really do not have the ability or skill to differentiate between that and just someone who's just cranky and difficult to get along with, sending people out for a psychological evaluation [is a useful approach]."

How can an employer keep its workers safe from people that it's let go?

"One thing that you might do, in the theme of not wanting this individual to feel that their back is against the wall... is provide them with severance... Another thing you might do is continue their participation, and pay for their participation, in your health plan, so that they can continue to get mental health services without the trigger of COBRA, which makes the cost of that so enormous."

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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