Linking workplace bullying to workplace violence

Last week’s news included a San Francisco workplace shooting allegedly committed by a man who believed he was a target of bullying. As reported by Tara Moriarty of KTVU and the Associated Press:

The UPS worker who opened fire at the company’s San Francisco warehouse yesterday, killing three co-workers before turning the gun on himself believe[d] he was being bullied by two of those employees, sources told KTVU Thursday.

Jimmy Lam, an 18-year veteran of UPS, appeared to single out three slain drivers during the shooting rampage although police have not yet publicly disclosed a motive in the case. San Francisco police declined to comment about their investigation on Thursday.


Friends and colleagues recounted several personal and professional troubles that Lam had been experiencing.

Most recently, he was upset with UPS managers and had filed a grievance in March claiming he was working excessive overtime, said Joseph Cilia, Lam’s friend and an official with the union that represents UPS drivers.

In his 1995 book Violence at Work, Joseph A. Kinney, founder of the National Safe Workplace Institute, observed that workplace violence can be a consequence of bullying at work. Kinney noted that “there have been numerous instances where abusive supervisors have baited angry and frustrated employees, pushing these individuals to unacceptable levels of violence and aggression.” According to the news report cited above, none of the San Francisco UPS victims were managers, so this scenario is slightly different than what Kinney described back in 1995. However, it is the latest instance of a tragic workplace shooting tied to allegations that the shooter had been bullied at work.

Of course, there’s a difference between someone claiming to be bullied and someone being found to have been bullied under some objective, factual standard. Also, in no way am I attempting to justify deadly violence as a fair response to a lesser form of mistreatment. In addition, a murder-suicide scenario such as the one in San Francisco suggests that we need to look much deeper into underlying circumstances before we offer a confident interpretation of what happened.

Nevertheless, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for us to say that being bullied at work may, in turn, trigger violent behavior by the victim towards the aggressors. After all, abuse can become cyclical and escalate. Stopping and reversing these cycles of abuse, hopefully with compassion and understanding, must be among our core objectives in confronting mistreatment at work.

4 responses

  1. He may or may not have been bullied by colleagues, but he was definitely bullied by UPS. Working 10 to 13 hours each day without relief is like living in hell. It destroys your health and your sanity.

  2. some managers use a “divide and conquer” strategy, which results in consecutive targets. the level of hostility becomes unbearable, and unstoppable.

  3. Being bullied, filing a grievance (unions do not usually file if they do not see merit in the claim) and getting no resolution from the bodies that are supposed to be fair, care about employee welfare, creates feelings of frustration, betrayal, exasperation and being denied justice. Since a grievance was filed, I would bet the boss came down harder to “teach him a lesson and show others what will happen if they decide to file a grievance.” So many targets have walked this path. It is no wonder why many cases of bullying go unreported. Things get worse and your word is mud. The afternoon that I was removed, the principal called all the staff into the library. She asked, “Does anyone have any questions they want to ask me?” …. “I’ll take your silence to be a no. You are all dismissed.”

  4. I’m curious to know what the actual hours worked were, and suggest that perhaps an legal definition of “excess overtime” might be a good idea.

    I know I was required to work 80 hours on the night shift in 7 consecutive days biweekly, and that both the employer and union found this acceptable due to a biweekly averaging provision in the collective agreement. In my case, there was no “overtime”, and certainly no “excessive overtime”- but from my personal experience I can tell you it was difficult and that it affected me physically, psychologically, and socially. The failure of my employer, union, and government to recognize, validate, and address that was devastating.

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