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Dangerous workers put employers in tough position

Dangerous workers put employers in tough position

The on-air shooting deaths of a news reporter and cameraman in Roanoke, Virginia, by a former television station employee illustrates the challenges employers face in dealing with difficult workers.

Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were shot by Vester Flanagan, 41, who was a former employee of the TV station, CBS affiliate WDBJ7. He later shot himself as police pursued him.

According to news reports, Mr. Flanagan had been fired by the station in February 2013 because of his performance and newsroom behavior. When he was let go, the station had to call police to escort him from the building.

Mr. Flanagan, an African-American, had filed a complaint against the station with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was denied. A lawsuit he filed against the station was also dismissed, according to news reports.

“I reviewed what the TV station did, and in my opinion, they were very diligent about really everything they could have been diligent about,” said Robin E. Shea, a partner at law firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete L.L.P. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Documentation from Mr. Flanagan's personnel file, which has been made public, indicates he was arrogant, but there was nothing “that would have made them think he was going to kill anybody,” Ms. Shea said.

Actions employers should take in these cases would depend upon the circumstances, said Ms. Shea. Possible alternatives include requiring an employee to go out on medical leave of absence and not letting him return to work without clearance from a mental health professional, she said.

“There could be some (Americans with Disabilities Act) exposure for doing that,” but if the employee is engaged in behavior that does not seem right, employers “can certainly take action based on that,” Ms. Shea said.

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