When worlds collide and shots are fired

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On August 26, 2015, Bryce Williams shot two former co-workers, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, on live television.  Williams had been a troubled employee of the television station where they had all worked.  There had been numerous complaints by and about Williams as an employee.  In listening to coverage after the tragedy, I heard a commentator state that it was “reasonably foreseeable” that Williams would engage in this violent conduct.  

The question of whether it was reasonably foreseeable should be of dramatic concern to employers.  If such violent conduct is can be reasonably foreseen by the employer, then arguably, the employer has a duty to protect the balance of the employees and the employer’s failure to do so can subject the employer to civil liability.  To further complicate the concern is how the employer learns of the dangerous tendencies of an employee.  If the employer learns of the danger by virtue of a medical release under HIPAA, then the employer is limited in its ability to disclose the information obtained.

The worlds of an employer’s duties collide and the employer may have to chose which duty to breach.  In making this choice, the employer must recognize that it may incur civil liability regardless of the choice made.

Generally speaking, criminal acts are not deemed to be reasonably foreseeable.  However, if you have concerns about the mental health of an employee and the safety of other employees or the public as a whole, you may have a difficult decision to make regarding disclosure and how you make that decision may affect not only the health and safety of your employees but the health and safety of your business.

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