As a labor shortage and state restrictions put pressure on hiring teams, employers may be to blame

On November 22, a Walmart employee in Virginia shot and killed six coworkers in a break room at closing time. On January 23, an employee at the Mountain Mushroom Farm in California opened fire on fellow workers, killing seven. Workplace homicides rose 11 percent from 2014 to 2019, and there are nearly 250,000 incidents of workplace violence each year in the U.S. With that kind of track record, it’s no wonder two thirds of all employees don’t feel safe at work.

But how much of this issue falls on employers? Few would argue that employers don’t have a responsibility to create a safe workplace. But research shows that market forces and changing regulatory pressures may be pushing hiring teams to add fuel to the fire of workplace violence.

Violent Behavior

While severe workplace violence such as the terrible mass shootings above are rare, they’re not as uncommon as most people think. In a massive study of over 550,000 job applicants, 5,500 admitted to violent behavior on the job. This survey was focused on front-line workers in farming, general labor, construction, warehouse, logistics and healthcare.

From 1992 to 2019, 18,000 people were killed in work-related violence, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clearly, workplace violence is more than just a sensationalized and rare event. It’s a pressing problem that hamstrings workplace safety and productivity, costing billions per year and opening employers up to liability as they’re held increasingly responsible for their employees’ actions on the job.

A Growing Labor Shortage

It’s a pressing issue for workforce analysts to learn where recent, drastic increases in workplace shootings are coming from. The answer may hit uncomfortably close to home for U.S. corporations.

With unemployment rates at all time lows, employers are desperate to fill front-line jobs. Economic forces and the Great Resignation saw 47 million workers quit in 2021, with 4.6 million roles left unfilled in December.

Compounding that labor shortage are increasing state restrictions that prevent employers from disqualifying applicants based on past criminal behaviors. Together, these factors create a perfect storm where hiring teams have strong incentives to hire fast and blind, in a rush to fill open roles regardless of the consequences.

Are Employers Helpless?

workplace shootings

During remarks on a recent rate hike, Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell said the U.S. is in the grip of a “structural labor shortage” that experts like Aaron Terrasas, chief economist at Glassdoor, feel will last for years.

But according to research written up in the Journal of Business and Psychology, employers are far from powerless amid the fray. Two studies found that an EEOC-compliant tool that takes eight minutes in the hiring process can be highly effective at identifying and preventing these dangerous and risky hires.

That tool is a simple, low-cost integrity survey that can help detect and eliminate job applicants who directly admit to dangerous behaviors. The researchers discovered that employers who use this fully legal tool reduce workers’ compensation claims by 57% and cut turnover by 30%. In other blind studies, employers have found that job applicants who pass the test are rated higher for attitude, integrity, and performance by their supervisors.

Hire Fast, but Verify

Fletcher Wimbush, developer of the Integrity First test used in the research above and CEO of The Hire Talent, Inc., blames most risky hiring on a fundamental misperception ingrained in many hiring teams. “They think it’s somehow unethical to go beyond the information in a resume and cover letter – the information job candidates choose to share with you.”

While it’s proven somewhere between 50%-84%  depending on the study that applicants admit to falsifying or exaggerating their resumes.

Yet Wimbush maintains that going beyond the typical cover letter, resume, and interview are the lifeblood of hiring due diligence. “You can’t hire with any kind of confidence if you don’t dig deeper than a piece of paper and a conversation,” Wimbush says. “Yet with a simple eight-minute, research-backed integrity test inserted into your hiring process, you can predict job performance and risk level for each candidate before you even shake their hand.”

Less Hiring Bias

The integrity test has also been proven to reduce hiring bias, in line with the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in most workplaces today. The testing cuts down on bias because it ranks candidates on their merits before a human interviewer has had the chance to form impressions based on gender, race, or other details irrelevant to work performance.

With no end in sight to the labor shortage, and workplace violence on the rise, employers carry increasing pressure to fill positions quickly, but with increased confidence that the hires they’re making are as risk free as possible.