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As has been the case too many times in the past, at least one of the recent tragic mass shootings that has been in the headlines involved a workplace shooting. The employee who committed this violence came to work with an AR-15 style rifle that he had recently purchased. Some press reports indicate that he had learned he would soon be discharged, but whether this is accurate is unclear. Media reporting also indicates that coworkers characterized the employee as “pretty much just relaxed.” But details have emerged that he wrote a note to family members and at least one friend stating his plans. At this time, there is no evidence from the employee’s past that he had ever displayed any outward signs of violence or instability.

Some of these horrible events may not be predictable or preventable. When an employee or former employee makes any type of threat of violence, here are some responses employers should consider taking immediately in response:

  • Alert the employees potentially under threat as soon as possible after learning of the circumstances.
  • Contact law enforcement, report the threat, and, if necessary, follow up with law enforcement encouraging it to act to protect the workplace or employees.
  • File for and attempt to secure a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the employee who has made threats, keeping in mind that securing a TRO may not eliminate the threat.
  • Retain qualified private security to protect the workplace for some period of time in the aftermath of the threats.

But what about a situation in which an employer does not have any warning or threat of potential violence? Many employers have adopted some of the following practices, among others, to enhance workplace safety when discharging employees. Those practices include:

  • Discharging employees remotely regardless of whether the termination is made as a part of a reduction in force (RIF) or involves just one employee;
  • Avoiding giving employees advance notice of impending terminations;
  • When discharging employees in person, not allowing employees to return to their offices or otherwise remain on, or return to, the premises;
  • Alerting on site security of all terminations, particularly in situations in which employees will immediately go to their vehicles parked on site, since they may have weapons in their vehicles; and
  • Escorting discharged employees from the building with security present.

Key Takeaways

Putting aside the political hot button issues that surround this issue, the fact is that gun ownership is prevalent in the United States. Some estimates indicate that there are as many as 20 million AR-15 style weapons in the United States. Clearly, whatever happens politically, the threat of gun violence in the workplace will not diminish in the foreseeable future. Given that, employers should consider implementing safety policies and practices to address the potential for workplace violence.

For more on this topic, please join us for our upcoming webinar, “Violence in the Workplace: Preventive Measures for Employers in Tragic Times,” in which Jeff S. Mayes, Scott R. McLaughlin, and Tiffany Cox Stacy will share their insights for identifying the early warning signs of violent behavior and implementing an action plan to prevent (or minimize the impact of) incidents of violence. During this webinar, which will take place on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, at 2 p.m. Eastern, our speakers will also provide an overview of the current state of firearms restrictions across the United States to help employers create a foundation for what they can and cannot do with regard to their workplace violence prevention plans. Click here to register for this timely event.


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