Lessons from UPS: Be Diligent in Diffusing Potential Workplace Violence

On June 14 – what appears to be just another normal workday at the UPS distribution facility center in San Francisco, California – employees are checking in or already busy at work. 

As the day is getting underway, former employee Jimmy Chanh Lam attempts to enter the facility when the metal detector goes off.  Despite that alert, Allied Universal guards allow Lam to enter – no questions asked – and he proceeds to the distribution floor.

Unbeknown to the guards who let him through, Lam is concealing a MAC-10 submachine gun and an automatic pistol. As he enters the workspace, he opens fire, killing former co-workers Machel Lefiti and Benso Louie and one other person. 

Lam them turns the gun on himself.

It’s a horrific event and, tragically, one that appears to have been avoidable. Many of those affected by the violent incident claim agree.

The shooting in June has since resulted in nine lawsuits against UPS, Allied Universal, and the property owner, Valcal Co. filed on behalf of 28 plaintiffs. The claims include wrongful death, general negligence and premises liability. Many are seeking general damages, as well as compensation for related medical expenses from the attack and moving forward.

An unsettling detail in the lawsuits is the claim that workers had previously complained about safety issues – which included concerns that firearms and other weapons were being brought into the workplace and unauthorized personnel were allowed to enter the premises.

How can this be avoided?

Workplace violence is perhaps the most difficult atrocity to anticipate, and possibly even harder to prevent. But that doesn’t mean employers should disregard their responsibility to keep employees safe.

Dr. Michael Corcoran, a behavior scientist and former Secret Service agent, describes workplace violence as being borne more often from an assailant’s desire to gain control over a situation in which he or she feels helpless, termination of employment being a frequent example.

Often, perpetrators feel wronged and want to retaliate. And, fueled by a need for vengeance, spend time carefully planning their revenge.

With this in mind, it appears that there are two critical initiatives employers can take: discharge with dignity and empathy; and take a serious look at workplace security.

In the first initiative, Human Resource departments can play a crucial role by carefully dealing with disgruntled and terminated employees. A quality HR team, with ties to healthcare professionals – e.g., employee assistance programs and individual counselors and psychologists – can go a long way toward dealing with potential catastrophes.

Communication and education for employees is important. They need to know these resources are available and, further, feel encouraged to use them without stigma. HR professionals should also spend time reinforcing the mantra “If you see something, say something,” to all employees at all times, because it becomes important in instances of termination.

Beyond that, employers should not brush off the importance of workplace security. In this digital age, much of a company’s security focus is on cybersecurity. In fact, a quick Google search indicates there is more readily available information on how to avoid a data breach than a trespassing breach. While cybersecurity is important, since computer attacks are a risk, we also unfortunately live in a time where there is a risk of workplace violence and protecting the physical safety and wellbeing of employees is therefore absolutely crucial.

Periodic reviews of your security procedures are a must with today’s changing world. Even with the security procedures UPS had in place on June 14, the system broke down. To avoid that, employers need to challenge their own security measures; routinely trying to breach that security is one way to identify gaps or areas in need of improvement.

It’s also essential to develop and maintain a good relationship with local law enforcement agencies and communicate with security organizations from other employers to create the safest workplace possible for everyone.

David Smith, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of EASI•Consult®. EASI•Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government   agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

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