In a Roanoke Times Article the survivor of the 2015 Bridgewater Plaza shooting sues WDBJ over the on-camera shooting. During the attack, two news crew members were shot and killed, and a disgruntled former WDBJ employee was behind the shooting. The complaint, filed by Vicki Gardner, is seeking $6 million in damages and states that WDBJ is guilty of gross negligence in the hiring of Vester Lee Flanagan II, the gunman.
At the time of the shooting, Flanagan had not been employed by the station for over two years due to his threatening and volatile workplace conduct. Beyond the medical expenses Gardner incurred in the aftermath, the accusations of negligent hiring and retention are particularly potent. At another station, WTWC in Tallahassee, FL, Flanagan was fired due to “poor performance…misbehavior with regards to co-workers…failure to respond to corrective recommendations…refusal to follow directions…[and] use of profanity on the premises.” Gardner’s filing states that the network did not properly screen employees or conduct criminal background checks.
This case highlights how critical prior employment verifications and thorough background investigations are during the hiring process. Prior employment verifications can uncover a violent past or lengthy criminal history and enable your business to make an informed decision on whether or not an applicant has a high risk of committing another crime on the job or outside of the office. In a previous blog post, we noted the benefits of using recidivism rates when hiring to determine the odds of an incident reoccurring in the future. Data indicates that, if an individual has not committed a crime resulting in an arrest for over 6 years, the odds of them not committing another crime are 21%.
If the station in question took the time to complete a background check and employment verification, the incidents at his past employers might have been brought to the surface. And they would possible have avoided gross negligence in the hiring process. Prior employment verifications also provide you with a wealth of information, including if the employee has the stated qualifications, when the employee worked there and even their salary history (if not located in California). Due diligence protects your business from liability and current employees from the serious and sometimes deadly ramifications of making the wrong hire.
If WDBJ had made the call to WTWC and WTWC failed to provide truthful, documented information about Flanagan’s behavior there, it could have led to the tort of negligent referral All employers have the obligation to provide factual information on past employees to prospective employers, and, if that was the situation, the previous employer failed. While some employers don’t want to speak ill of a past employee, when the health and safety of employees, customers or patients at another workplace could be threatened, it is imperative to tell the truth.
James P. Randisi, President of Randisi & Associates, Inc., has since 1995 been helping employers protect their clients, workforce and reputation through implementation of employment screening and drug testing programs. Mr. Randisi can be contacted by phone at 410.494.0232 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or the website at www.randisiandassociates.com. This post does not constitute legal advice. Randisi & Associates, Inc. is not a law firm. Always contact competent employment legal counsel.