Workplace Violence: Are You Prepared?

An application support employee at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, Massachusetts, went to work on Tuesday, December 26, 2000, as if it were just another day in the office, talked with a few coworkers and in less than 5 to 10 minutes shot and killed seven coworkers. The gunman, Michael McDermott, came to work around 9 that morning on a mission to kill. His bag contained a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun, along with a semiautomatic handgun and enough ammunition to kill everyone.


“HR is the lightning rod for workplace violence.”

-Stephen Doherty, chief of police, Wakefield, MA


McDermott targeted the human resources and accounting workers because he was furious about a request from the IRS to garnish his wages.  The fatal shooting that claimed the lives of four women and three men: Janis Hagerty (office manager), Cheryl Troy (vice president of human resources), Louis Janelle (director of consulting), Craig Wood (human resources), Jennifer Bragg Capobianco (marketing), Rose Manfredi (accountant in payroll department) and Paul Marceau (development technician) was triggered by money troubles.

Kathleen McComber, president of The HEART Group, talked about this in her presentation on Workplace Violence at the Central Arkansas Human Resources (CAHRA) meeting. Then she concisely provided key points about workplace violence prevention, information on implementing a Violence in the Workplace program and policy development, communication and sensitivity training, as well as employee assistant program (EAPs) resources. Selection and prescreening information along with termination tips were also given.

Although it’s been more than fifteen years since the Wakefield massacre, we can definitely learn from her experience with Edgewater Technology to better prepare, plan, and provide training to help prevent violence in their workplace.

“Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide,” as stated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

Often warning signs are missed and threats are not taken seriously. When any employee says that s/he will kill a coworker(s) if s/he looses their job, it must be investigated. McDermott was still irate after HR told him they would wait until after the holidays to garnish his check. What’s more, he went on a rampage because he didn’t want to pay the $4000 in back taxes he owed. With that regard, here are a few signs of trouble from employees that you need to know.


Signs of Trouble from Employees

  • Threats, threatening behavior, frequent aggressive outburst, excessive displays of temper
  • A history of threats or violent acts
  • Ominous fascination with weapons and/or references to weapons, violent media content, or violent events
  • Chronic, hypersensitive complaints about persecution or injustice
  • Verbal abuse of coworkers and customers, or harassment through phone calls or emails
  • Must be right all the time
  • Not newcomer or not at bottom
  • Makes direct or indirect threats
  • Romantic obsession
  • Desperation over finances


This month’s CAHRA presentation by McComber about the active shooter as well as the Workplace violence statistics she shared from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and National Crime Victimization Survey center on two basic takeaways: planning and training.

Workplace Violence Statistics

  • Approximately 2 million American workers are victims of violent crime while working or on duty each year.
  • Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace and it is the second overall cause of death for all American workers.
  • Homicide is currently the 4th leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.
  • Workplace violence incidents have increased by 41% over the past 10 years. Cost to business: over $4 billion annually
  • More than 80% of all workplace homicides were committed with a firearm
  • Except for rape and sexual assault, males experience workplace violence at a higher rate and percentage than females




Overall, the presentation by Kathleen McComber today was awesome. There’s tons more information to share, however it’s getting late so that will have to be discussed in another post. Oh BTW, what do you think about the following ten risk factors of workplace violence?

 Ten Risk Factors of Workplace Violence

  1. Contact with the public
  2. Working with unstable or volatile persons
  3. Delivery of passengers or goods
  4. Having a mobile workplace such as taxicab or police cruiser
  5. Working in community-based settings
  6. Working alone or in small numbers
  7. Working late at night or during early morning hours
  8. Working in a high-crime areas
  9. Exchange of money
  10. Guarding valuable property or possessions




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