Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Examining Workplace Homicide

Workplace Violence on the Rise

Violence in the workplace is an increasing problem in the United States. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately two million workers victimized each year, of which roughly 700 result in homicide. An article released by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles stated that in the year 2000, homicide was the third leading cause of occupational deaths in the United States and the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.

A study conducted by the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) has divided workplace violence into four types:

  1. Criminal Intent
  2. Customer/Client  
  3. Worker-on-Worker  
  4. Personal Relationship

The IPRC stated that Criminal Intent is the most common form of occupational violence and accounts for 85% of all workplace homicides and is usually committed by perpetrators who have "no legitimate relationship to the business or its employers." Many of these homicides have resulted from robbery, trespassing or similar crimes in the workplace and more recently terrorist attacks (as in the 2001 World Trade Center catastrophe in New York and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995).

Worker-on-worker is the next most common form of occupational violence, which accounts for 7% of all workplace homicides. The remaining 8% of homicides are a result of customer/client (customer/client vs. worker/employee) or domestic violence at work. However, according to an article by Jonathan Dube entitled Office Wars,   the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) claimed that as much as 30% of occupational homicides resulted from customer versus employee violence at work, a substantially larger figure than that claimed by the IPRC. 

The majority of the workplace homicides are not evenly dispersed across workplaces but "clustered in particular occupational settings" such as in the retail trade and service industries. According to OSHA, those most at risk for work-related death are workers who exchange money with the public, have close contact with the community and work alone or in small groups during the late evening or morning hours. Such workers include fast food restaurant employees, convenience store and gas station clerks, taxicab drivers, police officers and security guards to name a few. In fact, according to a paper written by Sygnatur and Toscano titled Work-related Homicides: The Facts, taxi cab drivers and police officers have the highest rate of work-related homicide of any occupation.

Dan Thompson in his article, "On The Edge,"   writes that   employees who commit violence against other employees are likely to share similar characteristics. The most common profile of a violent worker is a white male 25 to 50 years old, a loner with a history of violence and who has demonstrated a fascination with weapons. Moreover, the violent worker is likely to exhibit signs of depression; self-destructive behavior, paranoia and/or other behaviors generally associated with specific personality disorders. Interestingly, Thompson also suggests that Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder appear to be directly linked with workplace homicide and violence.

The profile described by Thompson lends some insight into worker-on-worker violent behavior, however it is not entirely reflective of "Criminal Intent" offenders. This type of workplace homicide often times varies significantly in terms of the type of offender and the motive behind the crime. For example, homicidal robberies are motivated by financial gain and usually not revenge, jealousy or workplace stress, which is often the case in worker-on-worker slayings.

On-the-job and external forms of stress are the " major contributors to workplace violence." Robert F. White stated in his paper Workplace Violence: A Case Study, that a study conducted by Kelleher (1996) listed nine critical elements that could aggravate stress and lead to increased incidence of worker-on-worker occupational violence. The nine elements included,

  • excessive workload
  • inadequate time to complete the assigned task
  • poor supervision
  • uncertain organizational climate
  • insufficient authority to meet job responsibilities
  • unclear responsibilities or job functions
  • philosophical differences between the organization and employee
  • unexpected or significant change at work or at home
  • unanswered or unresolved frustrations."

Other causes of workplace homicide often include:

  • mental illness
  • revenge
  • insecurity
  • jealousy
  • aggression towards other co-workers

In actuality, the subject of why people commit occupational homicide deserves a great deal more study than it has been afforded. After all, the more we know why someone commits such a crime the more likely we are of preventing it in the future.

Currently, many businesses are increasingly adding stress workshops and workplace violence prevention courses in an effort to curb the growing problem of occupational violence. Another effective preventative technique is intensely screening employees prior to being hired, especially since many of the cases involve people who have previously offended or have a history of mental illness. However, there are frequently many ethical boundaries and privacy issues that actually prevent such screening from occurring.

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