Empire State Building Shooting: Could Your Co-Worker Be A Threat?

worker stress Empire State Building shooting

The morning commute in New York City was interrupted Friday with word that a gunman opened fire outside the Empire State Building. Jeffrey Johnson, a fashion accessories designer who was laid off last year, shot and killed a former colleague, Steve Ercolino, police said. Then he reportedly fired at the police on the scene, according to news reports.

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Police shot Johnson, killing him. Nine bystanders were wounded in the crossfire. News is still trickling in, but according to a report by The New York Times, Johnson was laid off from his job at Hazan Imports last year and apparently clashed with Ercolino. Both men reportedly filed harassment complaints against each other.

The shooting follows a string of mass shootings in the U.S. And while crime overall has dropped in America, some experts say that the recession is driving an increase in workplace threats and violence. (Read more about that here.)

With the front pages now occupied by a shooting apparently stemming from a workplace dispute, an unavoidable question for all workers is: How can you tell if a colleague is dangerous?

And what should you do if you believe a co-worker is a threat?

There's no typical profile of a co-worker who might snap, according to Steve Kauger, the founder of the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs, Calif. But there are warning signs that a co-worker may be dangerous, says Larry Barton, the president of the Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based American College, who teaches at the FBI on how to identify potentially violent individuals in the private sector. In an interview with AOL Jobs, Barton outlined these red flags:


1. A co-worker's personality changes profoundly. When a worker goes from being social to being sullen or withdrawn, the transformation could be a sign of a deeper problem. Of course, such a transition doesn't mean that he will become violent, but it is a reason to take notice.

2. A colleague seems to be unusually angry and frustrated by one individual. "Beware of the grievance collector," said Barton. Yes, it's normal for workers to get frustrated on the job, but when someone directs his anger only at a specific person, as opposed to office politics or other external issues, that may be a warning sign.

3. There has been a negative milestone. Three types of events can push people to the edge: job loss, divorce and child custody issues. To be sure, millions of people experience these events without getting violent or threatening, but if you see these other signs -- fierce anger directed at one person, for instance, about a layoff -- then this could be a red flag.

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What should you do if you are concerned that a worker might pose a threat? Barton recommends the following:

1. Trust your intuition. After settling into a job, people tend to let down their guard. And while that sense of comfort can have positive consequences for your working life, you have to remember that you are working with strangers. If you sense something is off, don't ignore your hunch.

2. Take advantage of Employee Assistance Programs. Through so-called EAPs, human resource departments will provide confidential support services for workers. Typically, you can make reports anonymously, but the company will be obligated to reach out to law enforcement if the company believes that the threat is real.

3. Notify the security department. Security officers don't just swipe badges. They are trained to deal with potentially violence situations, and can help keep an eye out on a potentially dangerous worker.

4. Show compassion. If you have a close relationship or some kind of rapport with a worker who is showing troubling behavior, a little compassion might go a long way.

5. Remember that threats from ex-employees need to be reported. If you hear about a former colleague who is out for revenge and perhaps has even made threats on Facebook, contact your security department and law enforcement.

6. If a co-worker has a violent outburst at work, it's vital not to dismiss him or simply tell him to "calm down" or "everything is going to be OK," Michael Staver, an executive coach, told Forbes. The person feels he has a legitimate gripe, and so anything that could come off as demeaning might only compound his anger.





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Dan Fastenberg

Dan Fastenberg

Associate Editor

Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.

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9 Comments

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Nicole O.

Captbillb...too funny...lol

August 28 2012 at 3:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

You have to start worrying about coworkers the day you are hired. There are lots and lots of whiney underachievers out there just looking to blame anyone or anything for their own shortcomings, and you never know when one of them will snap. Managers usually spend half of their time coddling these idiots so they won't sue the company for one thing or another, ensuring that only a few workers end up doing most of the work...

August 28 2012 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zephyr828

I've got one of these in the office next to mine. I don't feel safe. i hate it.

August 27 2012 at 11:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
l2d3b

Ya gotta develop a little more resilience. If I killed all of the people that screwed me over in the business world, there'd be a whole lot more dead people around.

August 27 2012 at 9:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
captbillb

The only time that I feared for my personal safety was when one of the female staff members let it be known that she was going through menopause.

August 27 2012 at 8:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
merle the pearle

Stop F with People!

August 27 2012 at 5:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
toddisit

I've worked with people who are literally manic depressives and just plain nuts, one day they will be all perky, the next day total opposite, angry, hateful. It is sad when these people have to be dealt with daily, but they are not going to change. If you try taking action against them, they wlll blame you, or not take any responsibility, create problems. Best to avoid these people, but that is not always possible. Some jobs have to end due to people like this who only think of themselves. Sometimes these people can stay around by playing politics or taking advantage of the situation at work. Like neighbors, you cannot choose your co-workers.

August 27 2012 at 2:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
supporteforg

How about joining a labor union! Oh yeah I forgot they work for the employer these days !Never mind.

August 25 2012 at 9:07 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hessheathera

Its a blood bath out there...what do you do? It really is scary.

August 25 2012 at 3:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
captmerit

right

August 24 2012 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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