Saturday morning, outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, a lone 22-year old college dropout opened fire at a town meeting held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killing six bystanders and wounding twenty others, including Rep. Giffords, whom he shot in the head. The tragedy has captured the national spotlight, as authorities try to put together the pieces of this grizzly puzzle. As human beings, we all stop to reflect and keep the victims and their loved ones in our thoughts. As employers, there is another layer to think about.
How do you prevent such a tragedy from unfolding in your workplace? There are two legal angles here. The first is workplace violence prevention. Have a policy in place, and train on it. Make sure upper management has an idea of how to deal with a violent outburst (this can be as simple as appointing specific people to contact the police, etc. Just have a discussion about it, for starters.) The second issue is how to deal with an individual who threatens violence. This involves an analysis of the ADA’s “direct threat” provision. In a nutshell, if an employee poses a direct threat in the workplace, the employer does not need to retain that employee. For an excellent and thorough analysis of this legal point, see Jon Hyman’s post on this topic.