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Execs’ Shooting a Stark Reminder of Security Needs

With a layoff-prone economy, companies without protection against violent reactions by employees they let go are leaving themselves open to sudden tragedy.

Last month, engineer Jing Hua Wu allegedly shot and killed three executives at a Santa Clara, California, semiconductor firm shortly after he was fired.

Joseph LaSorsa, a Florida-based workplace security consultant and former Secret Service agent, says companies need training in workplace violence awareness to head off potential job-site violence before it happens.

“That raises the awareness level of the general employee population to be cognizant and familiar with routine warning signs,” LaSorsa said. “They are more often than not evident and visible.”

The shootings occurred at SiPort, a small semiconductor company in Santa Clara. The victims were Marilyn Lewis, 67, the company’s head of human resources; Brian Pugh, 47, vice president for operations; and Sid Agrawal, 56, the company’s co-founder and chief executive.

Since Wu, 47, apparently exhibited no signs of hostility, the executives agreed to meet with him after his dismissal and went into a room to talk, which is where the three were shot and killed.

Such signs are usually missed without awareness training, LaSorsa said, adding that management should encourage employees to report any suspicious behavior.

“More than likely [Wu] exhibited abnormal behavior and warning signs, which no one reported. I’m sure of it,” LaSorsa said.

Corporations and schools tend to be reactive rather than proactive in dealing with outbreaks of violence, LaSorsa said. “After Wu was fired it was too late. Now you’re sitting waiting for him to come to you.”

Potential problems with Wu should have been identified before he was fired, LaSorsa said.

Workplace violence experts also agree that a firing should never take place on a Friday, since there’s nowhere to go for counseling or employment help for two days. That gives a potentially violent employee time to stew about acting violently, they say.

Paul French, senior director of Huntington Beach, California-based Threat Management and Protection Inc., said a key preventive measure is a thorough background check of job applicants.

Things like messy divorces and restraining orders can be found, indicating a potentially violent person.

French echoes LaSorsa’s contention that employees need an ability to report violent tendencies they see in other employees “without feeling like they’re going behind people’s back.”

French and LaSorsa also agree that a person being fired needs to be treated with respect and in a supportive way to minimize hostility.

French said a security plan should be in place for those to be fired who have been identified as potentially violent. A plainclothes security person can act as a corporate officer during the firing session as a defense, he said.

Once an employee is let go, he adds, they shouldn’t be let back into the building—not only to ward off potential violence, but to keep a disgruntled employee from stealing or compromising company data.

To maintain that physical separation, he said, job placement offerings should be available at another site.

—Mark Larson

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