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Does My Co-Worker’s Weird Fascination with Guns Mean He’s Going to Shoot Me? [HorroR Stories]

Dear Madame HR,

I am friends on Facebook with a bunch of my co-workers. Lately, after the Newtown tragedy and the subsequent discussions regarding gun control, one of my co-workers has been posting a lot of pro-gun statements, photos of himself with his guns, and other pro-gun things that make me a little nervous. I talked to my other co-workers and we kind of made some jokes about it, but the more I think about it, the more freaked out I am. Should I be concerned? Should I tell HR?

Rather Not Get Shot

Dear Rather Not,

Should you be concerned? OK, so looking in my crystal ball: I’m going to say “Maybe.” Yes, Maybe! My favorite answer to every question—it’s the only way in which I ever resemble a lawyer. Let’s get real for a minute. I mean, really, if I had a dollar for every time I went “Huh?” at something someone posted on Facebook then I wouldn’t be working in HR right now. I’d probably be at Sizzler getting a $6 steak because I don’t have many Facebook friends, but that’s not the point. The point is I’m not sure you should go over the deep end here. Sure, you could report the guy, start tracking his orders, x-raying the mysterious packages arriving for him. Or, you could confront him; tell him to stop posting those things (which would probably go over really well). You could block his posts so you don’t have to see them anymore. But then that only really solves the problem of your ignorance being compromised, it’s not going to make the dude stop loving guns so much. And I hate to break it to you, but I heard a statistic that before the Newtown tragedy something like 60% of Americans were against gun control, so he ain’t the only one out there hugging his semi-automatics right about now. In fact, sales of guns in the past month have gone UP. And statistically, the ratio of person who own guns to person who uses guns to shoot lots of innocent humans is pretty low.

Let’s say you do want to go to HR, and the HR Manager you talk to is me, what would I do?  First I’d ask you my favorite question: “What do you want me to do about this?” Because nine times out of ten when an employee comes to me to complain about something nutty their co-worker is doing, the answer to this question is “nothing.” In fact, usually it’s: “Good God, don’t tell him/her that I came to you.” OK, maybe you want to vent, maybe you want some reassurance. I can try and do that. You’ll probably leave my office not feeling much better about the whole thing and wondering why in the heck you even have an HR Department because they are so freaking useless.

Then, as you walk away muttering to yourself, I’d get to work. I need to do some delicate investigation here regarding our little Ted Nugent. Here are some red flags I am looking for:

  • Is he a male?
  • Is he 35 years old or over?
  • Does he have a history of violence? (so THAT’S why companies do background checks!)
  • Does he have a history of substance abuse or mental health issues that we know of?
  • Has he been in the military?
  • Has there been a stressor lately (death in the family, divorce, move, etc.)?

Gosh, isn’t profiling fun? I love playing Criminal Minds! So now I have to go and have a conversation with the employee’s manager. I’m not going to say how I know about these Facebook posts (so your confidentiality is preserved!), and it sounds like lots of your co-workers are seeing these posts so it’s probably not news to them, but here are some questions I would ask:

  • Have you ever known him to carry a concealed weapon?
  • Is he withdrawn or a loner?
  • Does he walk around angry, blaming his boss for his troubles or maybe his co-workers?
  • To your knowledge, does he have or has he had an unrequited romantic interest in a colleague?
  • Does he seem paranoid?
  • How does he take criticism?
  • Have you known him to hold a grudge?
  • Is there any stress in general in the work environment right now (busy season, any other labor disputes, etc.)?
  • How have his performance ratings been?
  • How does he deal with change in the workplace? For example, if a policy changes, does he react in a more extreme manner than others?
  • Has he ever come to work intoxicated?
  • How is his attendance?
  • Is he productive when at work?
  • How is his safety record? (May or may not be relevant depending on the job)

At this point, dear Rather Not, you are either feeling better about Mr. Nugent, or you’re about to call a Code Red. It’s difficult in this non-police state we live in to be pro-active, and I imagine the manager will probably laugh at me. Here’s what’s reassuring: He’s posting these things on Facebook where lots of his co-workers or, as I like to call them, “friends,” are seeing the posts. This says to me that he isn’t a loner. If he were posting a bunch of angry rants about the company, or vitriolic mumbo jumbo about his manager, women, or society in general, I’d be a lot more worried.

Anyway, what if the answer to all these questions is yes? That’s a great question! Here’s an even better answer: I don’t know. I think I would probably go to my senior manager or legal counsel and see what he/she thinks. I’d coach his manager (depending on their relationship, if the employee is hostile to the manager I wouldn’t do this) into having a talk with him, maybe in a really non-confrontational way do a little “check in.” A “hey, you’ve seemed stressed, what’s going on?” Or, “It’s been a while since we checked in, how are you feeling about things?” Hopefully the manager can handle it because as soon as I go into that room it changes the entire dynamic. I go into that room and he’s not going feel at ease or less defensive. Anytime I walk into a room I get the automatic “I’m getting fired” look. Even if I’m just asking for a restaurant recommendation—it’s my lot in life. Depending on how all of this goes, I might consult with someone who knows a lot more than I do about this. I’d probably start with my EAP. What’s that, you say? Employee Assistance Program. What’s that, you say? Go to your Open Enrollment meetings for criminy sakes!! Dealing with this in the wrong way could make it worse, so I’d proceed very carefully.

Ok great, but what’s next? In a post-Newtown world how do we pull ourselves out of bed in the morning? Those of us that work in places where you don’t have to pass through a metal detector at the front door are feeling a little shaky after the end of last year. December was kind of a scary month in the world of workplace security. I mean, it was absolutely a scary month in the world in general, you know, in the whole are we safe anywhere, there is no such thing as childhood innocence anymore, can we save ourselves arena. But, this is an HR column, not a can we save ourselves column, so I’ll leave those questions to those who may or may not be better at answering them then I am. I’ll just focus on security in the workplace.

So, for your edification, here is a very brief list of the policies/procedures companies implement to try and prevent violence and protect employees (as in most of this post, I am going to focus on violence that is employee vs. employee not things like robberies, etc.) (my cynical self cannot let it pass without saying that a lot of these things are easier said than done, in most companies they aren’t done at all, or they are just words on paper. Policies are only as good as the managers. So this is, perhaps “best case scenario” instead of “real world scenario”):

  1. A Zero Tolerance Anti-Harassment policy.
  2. A No Weapons in the Workplace policy (Duh!).
  3. Pre-hire background checks. (this of course doesn’t cover anything post-hire)
  4. Sensitivity Training. Train employees and manager to notice warning signs.
  5. Physical security, limited access, etc.
  6. Open door policy so employees feel comfortable reporting incidents and expressing concerns.
  7. Have an EAP. What’s that, you say? Employee Assistance Program! What’s that, you say? Go to your Open Enrollment Meetings!
  8. Provide a healthy working environment.
  9. Reduce workplace stress. Yes, much to my chagrin: Crazy Hat Fridays! All the world’s ills can be solved by a few well-placed Crazy Hat Fridays.
  10. Develop a Threat Management Plan

So there you have it—the abridged version of the PowerPoint presentation I drag out for the Executive Floor at times like this when panic sets in. I hate to say it though, and let’s just keep this between us, but in the face of all the terror that’s been whipping around the world lately, it just feels like a big steamy tub of horse manure. Shit happens all the time and sometimes shit has a gun. We hope and pray that it won’t happen where we work, and thankfully for most of us it won’t.

Note: I do not include the option of “arm the HR Manager.” When it comes to stuff like this, I’m capable of many things at my job, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t and wouldn’t shoot anyone and if the guy is wearing body armor I’d probably just attract his attention. Last I checked, i can’t stop bullets, I just can’t. I mean I guess technically, I can, but then I’ll be dead.

Great, so now what do we do? Get VPN access and hide in our dens as the bullets rain down outside our windows? Block anyone on Facebook who expresses scary ideas? I don’t know. Me personally, I guess I’ll keep going to work, even though I know my Workplace Security PowerPoint presentation can’t stop a speeding bullet. But to you I say (given the information you have provided): maybe you should just block the guy and get on with your life. And if you want to know more about why you should never “friend” your co-workers on Facebook, read my post about it.

OK, now that you are sitting there not feeling much better about the whole thing and wondering why in the heck you even wrote in to Mme HR because she is so freaking useless, I would just ask you to realize how difficult this topic is. You don’t want to accuse someone falsely, but then you don’t want to not act and then have the worst happen. It’s hard to predict these things, so we go to seminars and make up PowerPoint presentations to make us all feel better. Do you feel better?

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