Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Men's Health

Font Size

When Employees Turn Deadly at Work

Working It Out
By
WebMD Feature

Fifteen years ago, a postal worker stormed into a post office in Royal Oak, Mich., and killed five people.

Later, experts said that many of the 911 emergency calls from the scene were almost identical:

Recommended Related to Men

Our Cheatin’ Hearts

Why can't you just be faithful? Any man who has ever been on the receiving end of that question, whether dodging crockery or wiping away his wife's tears, knows that some women would really like an answer. Do men who cheat really outnumber their female counterparts? Does infidelity in marriage come more naturally to men than women? And do some husbands think that "monogamy" is a board game? "There's no question that men cheat more than women," says Steven Nock, PhD, a professor of sociology...

Read the Our Cheatin’ Hearts article > >

 Dispatcher: "Who is doing the shooting?"
Caller: "I can't see him, but it must be Tom McIlvane."

It seemed that everyone in that workplace knew that McIlvane, who had a running grievance with his supervisors, was the co-worker most likely to turn violent. Yet no one took steps to intervene.

A similar drama unfolded more recently at an Internet consulting firm near Boston, where a disgruntled employee reported for work the day after Christmas and started shooting. When 42-year-old Michael McDermott was through, seven co-workers were dead. It was the fourth time in little more than 14 months that an employee had killed five or more of his co-workers in a shooting spree.

The federal government reports that homicide is the third-leading cause of death in the workplace, with 674 killings in 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available. While some of these were domestic disputes that spilled over into the office, disgruntled employees were to blame in many others, leaving stunned co-workers to wonder how such tragedies could have been avoided.

With concern growing about violence in the workplace, psychologists and others who study the subject say there may be ways to tell the difference between an employee who is merely eccentric or a little too aggressive and one who could cause serious harm. And both employers and employees may need to take a more-active role in identifying these people, seeking help before it's too late.

"Many of the cases that we noted in our book on the violence-prone workplace resulted from garden-variety problems that were allowed to fester," says Richard Denenberg, co-author of The Violence-Prone Workplace: A New Approach to Dealing With Hostile, Threatening and Uncivil Behavior.

Denenberg, who heads the nonprofit Workplace Solutions in Red Hook, N.Y., says supervisors or other employees are afraid to get involved, while anger builds up. So the teasing or tormenting or bullying other workers keeps happening, or the arguments continue over who had the right to use a workbench or a tool, he says.

Denenberg examined a 1997 incident in a California plastics factory, where the notion that a particular employee was gay became a running joke around the plant and, apparently, there was little concern about how it was affecting the man on the receiving end.

One day, the man reported to the factory with a gun and shot four office managers and two other employees. As he was firing, he reportedly shouted: "Damn it, I am not a homosexual."

Lynne Falkin McClure, PhD, is a Phoenix psychologist and consultant who wrote Risky Business: Managing Employee Violence in the Workplace. She describes eight types of behavior that could signal risk of violence at work. She says the way McDermott was acting at the consulting firm near Boston matches three of these behavior types and should have been easy to single out.

Today on WebMD

Life Cycle of a Penis
Slideshow
Preacher Curl
Slideshow
 
testosterone molecule
Article
Xray of foot highlighting gout
Slideshow
 
Food Men 10 Foods Boost Male Health
Slideshow
Thoughtful man sitting on bed
Quiz
 
Man taking blood pressure
Slideshow
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
Condom Quiz
Quiz
thumbnail_angry_couple_in_bed
Slideshow
 
man running
Quiz
older couple in bed
Video