Monday, January 31, 2005

Two Workplace Deaths In Maine in January 2005

BANGOR - Two women allegedly were killed by co-workers while on the job this month, both possible victims of personal relationships gone bad. The Friday afternoon shooting death of Allison Small of Vinalhaven, co-owner of Vinalhaven Transportation Inc., a trucking business located in Rockland, occurred 26 days after the Jan. 2 beating death of Erin Sperrey of Presque Isle, an assistant manager at Tim Hortons in Caribou.

It had been at least 12 years, possibly more, since a worker killed another worker in Maine, according to the most accessible Department of Labor statistics. "Most homicides in Maine are domestic violence related," said Laura Fortman, commissioner of the Labor Department, on Friday. "In Maine, you're more likely to be killed by someone you know."

That could be someone at work, a place where romance may take shape then fall apart.
"I don't think you have to actually be living with a person for it to be domestic violence," Fortman said. "All of us recognize that domestic violence does not just happen in the home. It's an issue that all of us have to recognize that it could take place in the workplace."

Small, Friday's victim, was trying to end an affair with a company truck driver, Douglas Dyer of Friendship, when she was shot, according to the Maine State Police. Dyer has been charged with murder and is being held at the Knox County Jail, police said.

Sperrey's alleged killer, co-worker Christopher Shumway of Caribou, had asked Sperrey out a few times on a date, one time as recently as a month before her death, and she had tried to turn him down, according to her family. Shumway remains in Aroostook County Jail.

It is not known whether Small may have thought that being at a public place such as work would be a better setting than a quiet one to end any form of a personal relationship, according to Michael Cantara, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, or if Sperrey may have felt safer at work than elsewhere to turn down Shumway's alleged advances. But, Cantara said, women need to watch for warning signs, such as a quick temper, jealousy, a controlling behavior or violence toward children or pets, and seek professional help to create a safe plan to end a relationship.

"The moment of separation or breaking up a relationship almost certainly places the woman at a high risk of injury or death," Cantara said. "To have a safety plan in mind is always a good idea. What that safety plan looks like depends on the situation. A public area might offer more safety but that's no guarantee."

He said agencies such as domestic violence prevention advocacy groups, police departments or the victim women advocacy group at the state Attorney General's Office can offer advice on how to end a relationship without it potentially turning into a violent situation.

Businesses, too, need to be better educated on how domestic violence can filter into the workplace, Fortman said. Last year, of the 217 assaults or violent acts that occurred in the workplace in Maine, 20 were by co-workers and 71 were by persons such as a customer, domestic partner or other individuals.

Warning signs that an employee is being threatened by a domestic partner include receiving repeated unwanted harassing e-mails or telephone calls, tardiness, inattention or unusual sloppy work performance, and fearful behavior.

Signs that an employee may become violent include sending harassing e-mails or telephone calls and displaying emotional volatility, according to prevention agencies. Fortman said programs and classes on how to spot the warning signs of domestic or other possible violence and how to handle those situations are available by contacting state or local violence prevention agencies. "That's not to say that having a policy in place will prevent that," she said. "I'm not suggesting that at all. There is no foolproof mechanism from keeping a tragedy like this from occurring. But be as prepared as possible. Have policies in place and educate people so that if there are warning signs we'd be able to warn women about them and help them."

Business owners interested in learning more about developing workplace domestic violence prevention policies can contact Maine Employers Against Domestic Violence at 941-1194; Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at 941-1194, e-mail and Web site at; or the Labor Department's SafetyWorks program at 624-6400 or

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Unique Corporate Response To Domestic Violence

Dallas, TX -- Prosecutors in Dallas County domestic violence courts hope a $200,000 grant from Dallas-based Mary Kay Inc. will help reduce caseloads and streamline the process for battered women to obtain protective orders. Police, prosecutors and advocates against domestic violence have focused in the last decade to work closely and make it easier for victims to get help. But the cost of success has been a caseload increase of more than 200 percent since 1999.

The Mary Kay grant will be used to hire a fourth full-time felony investigator and help pay the salary for a caseworker who will help domestic violence victims secure protective orders. "Mary Kay's mission is to enrich women's lives, and one way our company is doing this is by working to break the silence among women about domestic violence," said Anne Crews, the company's vice president for governmental relations.

The rare grant from the corporate sector will augment a $700,000 federal grant that is paying the salary of a prosecutor and a caseworker in the family violence division, as well as funding a Dallas police detective assigned to the county courthouse, a case manager for the Family Place women's shelter and a legal aid attorney. The donation is the first of its kind for Mary Kay and the related Mary Kay Ash Foundation, though the organizations have given more than $3 million to programs and services to stop domestic violence across the country.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Translating Practice Into Research

Wouldn’t you like to know if the programs and policies that employers are using to address domestic violence and its impact on the workplace really work? I know I would.

I recently had the opportunity to present “The State of the Art” regarding domestic violence as a workplace violence issue at the workplace violence prevention conference we co-sponsored with NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) in Baltimore in November. of 2004. Because of the prevalence and interest in domestic violence as a workplace issue, NIOSH has created a new category for “personal relationship” violence as a subset of workplace violence – it is known as “Type 4” workplace violence.

As I prepared for the presentation, I realized that the three other workplace violence typologies (criminal intent, customer/client, and worker to worker) have been identified and recognized for a much longer period of time than domestic violence has – and consequently there is more research regarding those types of workplace violence and how they may be prevented.

In fact, when I was sharing our “best practices” at the conference, I hesitated to call them “best practices” because while we think these things work best (and some former victims have told us they were helpful) we are not really sure they work – or that they are even the “best.”

I cannot tell you the number of times that I’m presenting to companies trying to engage them in pursuing a workplace domestic violence program when I am asked the question “Do you have outcome studies?” “How effective is this program?” “What are the cost savings?” “How can I know it is really worth it to do this?” I cannot give them answers to those questions beyond anecdotal experiences of our member companies – because we simply don’t have the information. Why is that?

It comes down to this – research. We need research in the field in a myriad of areas – for example, what exactly is the productivity cost per worker? Is there a way to best help victims of domestic violence through workplace interventions? And just because the victim is helped, is the workplace safer as a result? Is there a way to best reach batterers? How do we best reach out to small businesses – and what would work best for them?

These are just a few of the questions – and these are questions that can only be answered by research.

So what is keeping us back?

Domestic violence as a workplace issue is not being researched very much. As of the writing of this blog, it is my understanding that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has a Request for Proposal (RFP) out regarding domestic violence and the workplace – and so far only two research groups are looking into applying for those grants. Hesitation on the part of researchers themselves may be one part of the equation -- but there is an even more important part -- the hesitation of employers to participate and be "researched."

For whatever reason, many employers are reticent to become research partners –even when the research will be at no dollar cost to them. They are concerned about the employee time it will take to assist the researchers, employee time it will take to participate in surveys, focus groups, etc. Sometimes employers are concerned that their workplace experiences will be identified and from a public relations standpoint, they do not want their organization to be perceived as one having a “workplace problem.”

So – we have a big challenge ahead of us, don’t we? The name of the conference where I presented the “State of the Art” for domestic violence as a workplace violence issue included the phrase “Translating Research Into Practice.” I realized that for us, the issue is really “Translating Practice Into Research.”

There is some good news -- right now there are a few researchers looking into economic costs for domestic violence and the workplace – but the final results of that work is probably three to five years away. And those researchers are looking for employers that are willing to participate in their research.

In the coming months and years ahead, CAEPV will aspire to do all that we can to support and promote research in this field, and to provide employers with information regarding research opportunities in which they can participate.

It is my hope that in the coming years we will be able to say we are truly "translating research into practice."

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Man Opens Fire At Estranged Wife's Workplace -- Kills Three

Three people were killed and two injured Tuesday (January 11th) when a man opened fire on his estranged wife inside a Tennessee Department of Transportation maintenance garage, police said. Police arrested the accused shooter, 40-year-old David Lynn Jordan of Jackson, around noon without incident. Police believe it was just a half hour earlier, around 11:31 a.m., when Jordan arrived at the workplace of 31-year-old Donna Renee Jordan and opened fire - killing her inside her office, then killing Jerry W. Hopper, 61, of Enville and David Gordon, 41, of Medina, as he fled the scene.

Hopper was an employee with the Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture for 28 years, while Gordon was a delivery man with HCI Delivery Services. At the time of the shooting, Hopper was having his vehicle serviced and Gordon was believed to be making a delivery, police said. Both men died at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
Shot and injured were TDOT garage employees Larry Taylor, 54, of Finger, and James Goff, 53, of Henderson. Taylor was in fair but stable condition and Goff was in guarded condition Tuesday evening, a hospital spokesperson said.

Jordan is being held at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex on three charges of homicide, though officials are unsure yet whether the charges will be first or second-degree murder. He is also charged with two counts of attempted murder. Police recovered an SKS assault rifle, clips with live ammunition, a 12-gauge shotgun and two semi-automatic handguns from Jordan's red Mazda pickup truck, which was stopped a few miles from TDOT without incident.

Jordan's wife had worked at the TDOT maintenance garage for five years as a clerk and was sitting inside the office when she was killed. She had two children and two stepchildren, officials said.

The couple had a history of domestic calls with the Madison County Sheriff's Department. In September 2000, Jordan was accused of ''poking her'' and ''digging his fingers into her cheeks.'' He was arrested after this incident. In January 2000, the couple accused one another of striking the other but no charges were filed and no arrests made. Staples said there were no orders of protection against Jordan to his knowledge.

TDOT officials said 49 people work in the garage, located just off Interstate 40 as part of a complex of one-story buildings that are surrounded by a chain-link fence with no security. There are 295 employees working on the Jackson campus and a total of 873 employees in the 21-county region area, TDOT officials said. After the shooting, TDOT officials ''locked down'' the facility, and it is unknown when the facility will reopen. In remembrance of Tuesday's victims, flags at all TDOT and Tennessee Department of Agriculture facilities will be flown at half-staff this week. In the coming days, TDOT officials plan to reexamine their security measures, however, officials believe its unlikely they will being employing security officers. TDOT officials have requested the state's special trauma counseling unit to assist employees in coping with the shooting.

The shooting was the first in the department's history and did not specify the type of workplace-violence training employees have had in the past or would participate in in the future. Officials fielding questions from the media Tuesday evening said a visit from an employee's spouse would not have been uncommon or prohibited on the premises.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Bethlehem City Employees Learn Workplace Violence Prevention

A City Hall fistfight in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that cost two supervisors their jobs has spawned a series of workshops on violence in the workplace. The administration sent memos to all department heads about the seminars, requiring all employees to attend. Fifteen hourlong seminars will be offered to the city's employees by Bethlehem community police officer Wade Haubert, Human Resources Director Jean Zwiefel said.

Both Dana Grubb, deputy director of community development, and Harvey Joseph, environmental health director, were given an ultimatum to either retire or be fired after the Oct. 28 fight. Dennis Reichard, city business administrator, was summoned to the scene of the fight in the Health Bureau office immediately after it ended and said employees were badly shaken from the incident. Grubb suffered a broken nose and was bleeding. Chairs and papers were scattered, and coffee was spilled on the floor.''People were scared; they were stunned,'' Reichard said. ''There were people crying. They couldn't believe that it happened.''While the fight was occurring, Haubert was meeting with officials from IQE Inc. about making a Powerpoint presentation to the company's employees about violence in the workplace.''When I went to teach my first class with them, they asked why aren't we teaching this in the city?'' Haubert said. ''After the incident occurred, it became a much higher priority.''Haubert said he went immediately to the Human Resources Department to schedule the presentation for city employees.

The presentation outlines city responsibilities and procedures for employees and identifies what constitutes violence.Haubert said this may be the first seminar but hopes it's not the last.''This is something I would hope we would do every two years,'' Haubert said. ''A lot of times I don't think people realize they are in a public place and a crime has occurred. ''Not all employees, though, think it's necessary to have ongoing training in workplace violence. Sherri Penchishen, the city's director of health education, said additional training probably won't curtail a problem that, for the most part, doesn't exist.''As far as it goes, it's good, but I don't expect this problem to be recurring,'' Penchishen said. ''This was a unique incident that was building for years.''

Callahan said the city has an Employee Assistance Program that includes anger management for those employees who feel they need it. The seminar, he said, is important to underscore the administration's zero-tolerance policy when it comes to intimidation and workplace violence.''No one should have to come to work with the fear of a violent act taking place,'' Callahan said. ''We want to be proactive in looking at this issue.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Employers Fight Oklahoma Gun Law

The Labor Department's annual census of workplace deaths, released this fall, shows that homicide in the workplace took the lives of 631 people in 2003. That's 11 percent of the total 5,559 workplace fatalities the government recorded for the year. The good news: The 2003 figure represents the second-lowest incidence of murder in the workplace since the government started keeping track in 1992. The lowest incidence (609) was in 2002, while the highest (1,080) occurred in 1994.

So, if workplace murders are trending downward, why is Oklahoma making it legal to bring firearms to work? A new state law permits it, provided the bearer leaves the weapon in a locked car on the employer's property.

In response, employers including energy companies ConocoPhillips and the Williams Cos. filed suit, asking a federal court to overturn the law because it violates a property-owner's right to exclude anyone with a weapon and thus preserve workplace safety, The Associated Press reports. Tulsa police officials concur, telling Tulsa TV station KOTV they fear the law will lead to an increase in workplace violence.

The federal district court has issued a temporary restraining order, putting the law on hold, while a higher court rules on whether violations of the new law are criminal or civil, according to AP.

Oklahoma lawmakers advocated for its passage by saying that workers should be able to protect themselves, for example, during late-night commutes. "A lot of these businesses have late-night shifts, and these employees are subject to being violated by any type of predator that may be armed," Democratic State Sen. Frank Shurden, a coauthor of the law, told AP.
Paul Viollis, a workplace violence prevention expert and president of New York-based Risk Control Strategies, calls the firearms-OK-at-work law irresponsible. "I have no doubt that any state that permits an employee to bring a loaded firearm to work will affect the rise of workplace violence. Legally permitting American citizens to go to work and bring a loaded firearm is ludicrous," he says.

He adds that while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives employers the right to enforce restrictions on firearms in the workplace, this new Oklahoma law creates a burden on the CSO working to keep employees safe.