Home News Testimony Emerging Trends in Employment and Labor Law
  • Eugene Rugala
  • Supervisory Special Agent, FBI
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations
  • Washington, DC
  • September 26, 2002

Good Morning Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. It is an honor to testify before you today about the problem of workplace violence and the scope of the problem in America's workplaces.

Before I speak to the issue of workplace violence, it may be helpful if I briefly explain the roles of the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and that of the National Center For the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). The CIRG is an FBI field entity located at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Established in May of 1994, the CIRG was designed to provide rapid assistance to incidents of a crisis nature. It furnishes emergency response to terrorist activities, hostage situations, barricaded subjects, and other critical incidents.

The CIRG is composed of diverse units that provide operational support and training and conduct research in related areas. Expertise is furnished in cases involving abduction or mysterious disappearance of children; crime scene analysis; profiling; crisis management; hostage negotiations; and, special weapons and tactics.

The NCAVC, is comprised of FBI Special Agents and Professional Support staff who provide advice and support in the general areas of Crimes Against Children; Crimes Against Adults; and, Threat Assessment, Corruption, and Property Crimes. Typical cases received for services include: child abductions or mysterious disappearance of children; serial murder; single homicides; serial rapes; threats and assessment of dangerousness in workplace violence; school violence; domestic violence; and, stalking. Other matters that NCAVC personnel respond to include: extortion; kidnaping; product tampering; arson and bombings; weapons of mass destruction; public corruption; and, domestic and international terrorism. Annually, NCAVC personnel respond to over 1500 requests for assistance from law enforcement all over the world.

The NCAVC reviews crimes from both a behavioral and investigative perspective. This criminal investigative analysis process serves as a tool for client law enforcement agencies by providing them with an analysis of the crime, as well as, an understanding of criminal motivation and behavioral descriptions of the likely offender. Also, the NCAVC conducts research into violent crime from a law enforcement perspective in an effort to gain insight into criminal thought processes, motivations, and behavior. Results of the research are shared with the law enforcement and academic world through publications, presentations and training, as well as, through application of knowledge to the investigative and operational functions of the center.

The NCAVC, specifically gets involved in matters of workplace violence when contacted by a law enforcement agency, which, when responding to a request by an employer about a potentially dangerous employee, contacts our unit to conduct a threat assessment and render an opinion as to the potential for dangerousness. Once this assessment is done, NCAVC members will recommend intervention strategies to lower the level of threat.

In June of this year, the NCAVC, held a Violence in the Workplace Symposium in Leesburg, Virginia. Approximately 150 recognized experts in workplace violence and violent behavior from law enforcement, private industry, government, law, labor, professional organizations, victim services, the military, academia, and mental health looked at this issue from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Issues discussed included workplace violence prevention, threat assessment and management, crisis management, critical incident response, research, and legislative recommendations. It is through this symposium and the issues discussed that a written monograph will be produced detailing findings and recommendations. This monograph will be available to anyone who has a need, and will be furnished to this committee for review.

For our purposes today at this hearing, workplace violence can be defined as any action that may threaten the safety of an employee, impact the employee's physical and/or psychological well-being, or cause damage to company property. Workplace violence is now recognized as a specific category of violent crime which calls for distinct and specific responses from employers, law enforcement, and the community.

However, this recognition is relatively recent. Before the mid-1980's, the few research and preventative efforts that existed were focused on particular issues like patient assaults on healthcare workers, or the high robbery and murder risks facing certain occupations such as taxi drivers or late-night convenience store clerks. It was a number of shootings at U.S. Postal facilities around the country in the mid 1980's, where employees killed other employees, that raised public awareness of the kind of incident that is most commonly associated with the phrase "workplace violence."

In fact, the phrase "going postal" has been accepted as part of the public lexicon for this type of activity. Once workplace killings by unstable employees came to be seen as a trend, incidents tended to attract wider news coverage. Thus, the apparent rise in such cases may have been, in part, an impression created by more media attention. In subsequent years, other mass workplace shootings have occurred with the most recent being seven co-workers slain by a software engineer at the Edgewater Technology company in Wakefield, Massachusetts in December, 2000. Four workers were killed at a Navistar plant outside of Chicago in February, 2001. There were multiple shootings that occurred at an aircraft parts plant in Indiana earlier this year.

However, sensational multiple homicides represent only a tiny fraction of violent workplace incidents. The vast majority are lesser cases of assaults, threats, harassment and physical or emotional abuse that makes no headlines and, in many cases, are not even reported to company managers or law enforcement. While data on homicides and other assaultive behavior may be captured, specific data as to threats and intimidating behavior are lacking.

In a December, 2001, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey on Violence in the Workplace from 1993-1999, it was found that an average of 1.7 million violent victimizations were committed during that period. The most common being simple assault. This number does not include an average of 900 homicides which occurred in the workplace during that period. Also, this study showed, that along with all violent crime occurring in the U.S., there was a decrease in workplace violent crime. Since approximately 1993, workplace homicides have been on the decline. Dropping from a peak of over a 1000 in the early 1990s to approximately 677 in 2000. It should be noted that the majority of workplace homicides, about 77%, are the result of robberies and related crimes. Part of the decline in homicides may be the result of better security programs implemented by companies impacted by this type of crime (i.e. better lighting, bullet proof glass, video cameras, etc.). The remaining homicides are the result of disgruntled employees, clients and customers, domestic violence and stalking situations which spillover in the workplace.

Analysts and other occupational safety specialists have broadly agreed that responding to workplace violence requires attention to more than just an actual physical attack. Direct physical assault is on a spectrum that also includes threats, harassment, bullying, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create hurt and fear. All are part of the workplace violence problem; and, workplace violence prevention policies that do not consider threats and harassment, are unlikely to be effective.

Workplace violence falls into four broad categories:

  1. violent acts committed by criminals who have no connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime;
  2. violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, or any others for whom an organization provides service;
  3. violence against co-workers, supervisors or managers by a present or former employee; and,
  4. violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn't work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee, an abusive spouse, domestic partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.

While much has been done by the retail industry to lower the risk of violent crime associated with category one type crime, additional efforts should be focused to identify, prevent and/or manage workplace violence that involve the remaining categories.

The impact of violence in the workplace from lost work time and wages, reduced productivity, medical costs, worker compensation payments, legal, and security expenses, is estimated to be in the many millions of dollars. However, the impact of this type of crime goes beyond the workplace. By impacting society as a whole, it damages trust, harms the community, and threatens the sense of security every worker has a right to feel while on the job. In that sense, everyone loses when a violent act takes place within the work environment. Everyone has a stake in efforts to stop violence from happening where they work.

There is no one size fits all strategy. Discussions with the multi-disciplinary group of experts in workplace violence and violent behavior, who attended the NCVACs violence in the workplace symposium in June, 2002, suggest that success will depend on several factors. First, employers have a legal and ethical obligation to provide a safe environment for workers; and, as a result, can face economic loss as a result of violence. Second, employees have a right to expect to work in a safe environment, free from violence, threats or harassment. However, employees also have a stake in workplace violence prevention and have to be an integral partner in any such effort. Third, law enforcement, through the community-oriented policing concept, have placed greater emphasis on prevention and responding to threats and violent incidents, rather than the traditional view that law enforcement should be called as a last resort or to effect an arrest. Fourth, unions should regard workplace safety from violence as an employee's right just as worthy of union defense as wages or any other contractual right. Fifth, occupational, safety, and criminal justice agencies at the federal and state level have an important role in developing model policies, improving record-keeping as to number and type of incidents, and reaching out to employers. Especially, those in small companies. Sixth, medical, mental health, and social service communities have a role in assessment of threats and recommending intervention strategies and additional research regarding this issue. Finally, legislators, policymakers and the legal community can review legal questions that have an impact on workplace violence and on preventative efforts such as identifying potentially violent employees.

A multi-disciplinary, broad-based and proactive approach, at all levels, is what is needed to quantify, understand, and prevent and/or manage the potential for violence in the workplace.

I am grateful for the for the opportunity to contribute to this hearing, and hope that what we do here today helps in dealing with an issue that potentially impacts us all. I am willing to answer any questions that you may have at this time.

 
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