Workplace Shootings in Florida, Texas Again Put Focus on Violence on the Job

November 6, 2009
An engineer who was dismissed for poor performance two years ago allegedly returned to his former workplace in Orlando, Florida, the morning of Friday, November 6, and shot and killed one person while wounding five others, authorities said.

Jason Rodriguez, 40, was later apprehended by a police SWAT team and identified as the alleged shooter at his former employer, Reynolds, Smith & Hill, a transportation consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Florida.

The shooting came a day after an Army psychiatrist apparently went on a shooting rampage that left 13 dead and 27 wounded at the Fort Hood army post where he worked. The suspected gunman, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, had reportedly opposed his upcoming deployment overseas, in part, authorities believe, because of his experience counseling Army personnel returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The incidents, while unrelated, underscore the ongoing threat of workplace violence.

Rodriguez was hired as an entry-level transportation engineer and worked for the company for one year before being fired, said Michael Bernos, a spokesman for Reynolds, Smith & Hill.

During his brief employment Rodriquez did not exhibit any behavioral issues, and his dismissal in July 2007 was based on his poor performance as an engineer, Bernos said.

“He was given some reviews during the course of the year and was told his work was not up to standard and so at the end of the year we terminated him,” Bernos said.

Bernos said the company had not had any contact with Rodriguez until he allegedly arrived armed at the company’s Orlando office, an 18-story glass and granite tower called Gateway Center.

Soon after the shooting, company COO David Robertson traveled to Orlando to be with employees, who were provided with grief counselors. The company has 32 employees in Orlando and 800 across the country.

“It’s a very tough time for us right now,” Bernos said.

The two shootings are the highest-profile incidents of workplace violence since a Yale University student’s strangled body was found in the university laboratory where she conducted research. A co-worker, Raymond J. Clark III, was later charged with murder.

Commenting on the Yale University case, Richard Denenberg, author of the book The Violence-Prone Workplace, said in an interview with Workforce Management that “each workplace should have an intervention system and a system to report untoward incidence or chronic conflict so a conflict can be interdicted.”

Joseph LaSorsa, a Florida-based workplace security consultant and former Secret Service agent, commented in a previous Workforce Management article on a workplace shooting in California that took the lives of three executives last year. In a 2008 interview with Workforce Management, LaSorsa said signs of distress are usually missed unless workers are trained to identify them.

Workplace homicides accounted for 517 of the 5,071 workplace fatalities in the U.S. last year, a drop of 18 percent from 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of murders committed in the workplace has fallen 52 percent from a high of 1,080 workplace homicides in 1994.

Still, Denenberg said statistics in these matters are hard to trust because of underreporting.

—Jeremy Smerd

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