The On-Air Shooting Tragedy: The Importance of Solid Employment Investigations

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Most of us were appalled to see (not just hear about) reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward shot and killed during their morning news program. As my heart went out to the family, I was intrigued to learn more about the shooter, a former journalist and their former co-worker.

He was an openly gay man who was the only African-American on-air journalist at the television station. He had a history of run-ins at the station and was eventually fired. When I heard him described as “aggressive,” though, I wondered more about the investigation into his conduct. I’m very sensitive to such behavioral characterizations because they do not provide details about a person’s conduct–only an impression and perception.

The route the shooter took to take matters into his own hands made me wonder if his human resources department actively investigated the claims of “aggressive” behavior. Did the HR person ask for specific examples of the aggressive behavior? Were those who called the former journalist “aggressive” required to provide examples of the aggressive conduct? Words like aggressive, bossy, and intimidating are lazy bald assertions without any substance. Was the shooter disciplined and deemed persona non grata–and most likely isolated–without ever receiving any specifics that would coach him into more collegial relationships? Was there monitoring and well documented examples of the shooter’s misconduct? These are just some of the questions I would be asking myself if I were the HR person for this news station.

Make no mistake that there is no excuse for the shooter’s brutality and indifference to life. However, I can’t help but wonder if HR failed him and his newsroom by not conducting a thorough investigation. This I do not know. But, I do know that HR, employment counsel, and others who lead in the workplace have a responsibility to dig deep into an organization’s disruptions and find innovative ways to mend relations. I truly hope that this news room tragedy wakes up any workplace leader and jolts them into being more proactive about conducting thorough investigations of employees’ complaints. The last thing any of us want to see is another workplace shooting.

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