Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Walmart shooting raises need for violence prevention at work

The mass shooting Wednesday at a Walmart in Virginia is only the latest example of a workplace shooting perpetrated by an employee

  • Updated
  • 0

NEW YORK (AP) — The mass shooting Wednesday at a Walmart in Virginia was only the latest example of a workplace shooting perpetrated by an employee.

But while many companies provide active shooter training, experts say there is much less focus on how to prevent workplace violence, particularly how to identify and address worrisome behavior among employees.

Workers far too often don't know how to recognize warning signs, and even more crucially don't know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to workplace safety and human resources experts.

“We have built an industry around how to lock bad guys out. We have heavily invested in physical security measure like metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards," said James Densley, professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the nonprofit and nonpartisan research group The Violence Project. But too often in workplace shootings, he said, "this is someone who already has access to the building.”

The Walmart shooting in particular raised questions of whether employees feel empowered to speak up because it was a team leader who carried out the shooting.

Identified by Walmart as 31-year-old Andre Bing, he opened fire on fellow employees in the break room of the Chesapeake store, killing six people and leaving six others wounded. Police said he then apparently killed himself.

Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said Bing appeared not to be aiming at anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others told her that he was “the manager to look out for.” She said Bing had a history of writing people up for no reason.

Walmart launched a computer-based active shooter training in 2015, which focused on three pillars: avoid the danger, keep your distance and lastly, defend. Then, in 2019 after a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, store in which an outside gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by discontinuing sales of certain kinds of ammunition and asked that customers no longer openly carry firearms in its stores. It now sells only hunting rifles and related ammunition.

Walmart didn’t specifically respond on Wednesday to questions seeking more detail about its training and protocols to protect its own employees. The company only said that it routinely reviews its training policies and will continue to do so.

Densley said that employers need to create open channels for workers to voice concerns about employees’ behavior, including confidential hotlines. He noted that too often attention is focused on the “red flags” and workers should be looking for the “yellow flags” — subtle changes in behavior, like increased anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers need to work with those individuals to get them counseling and do regular check-ins.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's active shooting manual states that human resources officials have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting signs of potential violence behavior.” It also encourages employees to report concerning behavior such as increased absenteeism and repeated violation of company policies.

But many employers may not have such prevention policies in place, said Liz Petersen, Quality Manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resources professionals.

She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they didn’t know if their organizations had policies to prevent workplace violence, and another 9% said they lacked such programs. That was in contrast to the 57% of HR managers who said they did have training on how to respond to violence.

A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have risen in recent years, although they remain sharply down from a peak in the mid-1990s.

Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide increased by 11% from 409 to 454. That was still down 58% from a peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report, which was released in July by the Departments of Labor, Justice and Health and Human Services. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely mirrored homicide trends nationwide.

But the country's spike in mass public shootings is raising awareness among employers of the need to address mental health in the workplace and prevent violence — and of the liabilities employers can face if they ignore warning signs, Petersen said.

In one high-profile example, the family of a victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against the Northern California Transportation agency, alleging it failed to address the history of threatening behavior of an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers at a light railyard in San Jose in 2021.

The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, had been the subject of four investigations into workplace conduct, and one worker had worried that Cassidy could “go postal.” That expression stems from one of the deadliest workplace shooting in U.S. history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.

“Workplace violence is a situation that you never think is going to happen to your organization until it does, and unfortunately, it’s important to prepare for them because they are becoming more commonplace,” Petersen said.

This story has been updated to correct the location of Metropolitan State University. It's in St. Paul, not DePaul, Minnesota.

This story was first published on November 24, 2022. It was updated on November 28, 2022 to correct the spelling of Liz Petersen, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

A former Twin Cities psychiatrist has been sentenced to spend additional time behind bars for repeatedly sexually assaulting a patient. Gavin P. Meany was sentenced to a term of 12¾ years after pleading guilty to criminal sexual conduct. He was initially sentenced in 2020 to a term of 7½ years, with five of those to be served in prison.  But Meany won an appeal of his initial sentence claiming he was misled to believe that his supervised release would be 10 years and not for life. As it turned out, Meany’s second sentence was lengthier than his first.

A Wisconsin company that cleans hundreds of meatpacking plants nationwide is defending itself against allegations that it employed more than two dozen minors working overnight shifts cleaning massive saws and other dangerous equipment. Labor Department officials said in court documents that they believe Packers Sanitation Services Inc. might be employing underage workers at other plants but investigators have only just starting reviewing thousands of pages of employee records at plants besides the ones in Nebraska and Minnesota where they confirmed teenagers were working. A judge already issued a temporary order prohibiting the company from employing minors and interfering in the investigation. The company says it's cooperating and already prohibits hiring anyone younger than 18.

Election wins for abortion rights and Democrats could translate into abortion protections in some states. But more restrictions could still be coming elsewhere. This year's overturning of Roe v. Wade pushed abortion decisions to the states. While the majority of voters oppose total bans, the issue is playing out differently in different states. In Minnesota and Michigan, where this month's elections put Democrats in control, protections are a priority. But in Florida, where Republicans strengthened their grip on power, a tighter ban could be under consideration — though there's a question of how far it should go.

Officials in northern Minnesota say roughly 200 people have been rescued from Upper Red Lake after an ice chunk broke free from shore. The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office says on its Facebook page that the people were ice fishing Monday when the chunk separated. Officials directed the anglers to the southeast edge of the lake known as JR's Corner, where a temporary ice bridge was set up over the open water. Authorities said that everyone had been rescued by mid-afternoon.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals says a state board must reconsider its rejection of a substitute teaching license for the former police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in 2016. Jeronimo Yanez applied to be a substitute teacher in 2020, but his application was denied based on “immoral character or conduct." The appeals court ruled Monday that this reason was unconstitutionally vague and the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board must reconsider — focusing narrowly on whether Yanez’s conduct makes him unfit to teach. Messages left with Yanez’s attorney and with the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board were not immediately returned.

The Minnesota Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday on an attempt by environmental groups to cancel a key permit for the long-stalled PolyMet copper-nickel mine. They say regulators should have included “end-of-pipe” limits on discharges of mercury and sulfates in PolyMet’s water quality permit. And they say the state improperly tried to suppress the concerns of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in a weaker permit. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and PolyMet counter that the permit meets the legal requirements. It's one of three major permits issued to PolyMet four years ago that remain on hold due to legal challenges.

Once they all assume office, California will be the first state where it's believed more than 10% of legislators identify publicly as LGBTQ. The legislators in California are proud of their success but say it underscores the hard work that remains in their own state and elsewhere. That includes handling the fallout of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and its imitators, as well as laws in other states that limit transgender students’ participation in sports or block gender-affirming medical care for youths. The milestone is further shrouded by the fatal mass shooting over the weekend at a gay bar in Colorado.

From South Dakota and Oklahoma to Alaska and Alberta, Indigenous groups in the U.S. and Canada are leading efforts to restore bison across North America more than a century after European settlers drove the species near extinction. Tribes now have a collective 20,000 bison and that’s been growing steadily along with a desire among many Native Americans to reclaim stewardship of an animal their predecessors lived alongside and depended upon for millennia. The long-term dream for many: return bison, also known as buffalo, on a scale rivaling the tens of millions that once roamed the continent in thundering herds that shaped the landscape itself.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News