Tragedy opens up debate over hiring practices

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A week ago Wednesday, journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward were gunned down during a live shot by former co-worker Vester Flanagan III.

This tragedy raised questions about how employers can avoid hiring people who may become violent.

Flanagan was fired from WDBJ two years before the shooting, but showed violent tendencies before and after working there.

It may not be as easy as you think for employers to not hire someone like Flanagan.

This tragedy opened up a grey area for employers as they try to not discriminate against applicants, but also try to keep their current employees safe from potentially violent co-workers.

Some said this tragedy got them thinking about what’s possible.

“Absolutely. I think that anyone can fall off the wagon at any given time,” said Jon Lewis.

It can be hard for employers to get all the information about someone before hiring them, because references from former employers are normally little help.

“Essentially, they can confirm that the individual worked for them, they can confirm the position, perhaps the rate of pay and the dates of employment,” employment lawyer Gary Kramer said.

But they can’t say much else.

“The reason they don’t generally is fear of litigation by that former employee, because of something they said, some information they shared. Whether truthful, accurate, or not,” Kramer said.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but some in the Springs had a few ideas.

“Maybe probing a lot more during the interviews,” said Olga Strecker. “Maybe the interviews should be longer, they should be more of a panel based.”

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of people that don’t have a criminal record that you just never know when something might go crazy in their head. And then also it comes down to employers recognizing that maybe an employee is having a problem, or maybe we need to get them some help before it gets to that point,” said Lewis.

“Hindsight is 20-20 and we should focus on training our employees to have foresight and not hindsight and react and up-channel concerns in an appropriate way to get those employers an opportunity to deal with the issue before it becomes a tragedy,” said Kramer.

Employment lawyers said most former employers won’t even give a positive review of an employee, because other former employees could sue for not getting the same treatment.

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