Does the Virginia Shooter Show Need for Better Workplace Security?

Image of two young businessmen using touchpad at meetingVester Flanagan, the man alleged to have murdered two former co-workers while they were live on the air, had a well-documented history of hostile behavior in the workplace. He was said to have made colleagues feel “threatened or uncomfortable” on many occasions according to one of his previous supervisors at WDBJ.

Flanagan was hired as a reporter for the Roanoke, Virginia news station in 2012, and was fired less than a year later for creating a hostile work environment that was stressful for all of his co-workers. There are a number of reports and memos detailing his negative behavior over his months of employment, but despite this behavior, Flanagan never acted illegally. This raises the question: how can employers properly protect their employees from violence that can’t be predicted?

Flanagan had no history of criminal behavior, or violence. He also had no documented history of mental illness. Because of this, Flanagan was able to legally purchase the Glock 19 handgun he allegedly used to kill his former colleagues on live television.

What More Could Be Done?

Reporters asked the executives at WDBJ after the shooting what more they could have done to prevent this tragedy, to which one replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question, nor do I think I’m likely to come up with it.” The fact is that these acts of violence are often unpredictable.

Employers walk a fine line when it comes to providing employees with safe work environments. On one side, the law requires that employers must provide a reasonably safe workplace, and may be open to lawsuits if they do not. On the other side, they are somewhat restricted when it comes to firing a person they suspect may have mental issues as it is illegal to discriminate against any person with a disability, which includes mental illness.

No company has to tolerate violence or threats of violence. Regardless of whether an employee has a mental illness or not, if they act violently or threaten violence, then they can be, and should be, legally dismissed.

Garland & Mason, L.L.C.New Jersey business lawyers


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