Stalkers and the Workplace

Overview:

In their 2002 study Risk Assessment of Stalkers: Some Problems and Possible Solutions, authors P. Randall KroppStephen D. HartDavid R. Lyon described Stalking as a “cluster of behaviors, including unwanted communication, approach, or other contact, usually intended to threaten, harass, coerce, or intimidate the target into meeting the demands of the perpetrator”.

Prior to the 2002 study there had been little research on the topic of stalking; hence little understanding on the risk that stalkers present to their victims. Even today, with a significant body of knowledge available to them, many employers are unaware of the risk that stalkers present to their employees’ safety, job productivity, or the potential liabilities to their companies.

Background:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Department of Justice issued a report in January of 2009 on Stalking Victimization in the United States. This report was based on information obtained from the Supplemental Victimization Survey (SVS) conducted in 2006. At the time it was the most extensive study on stalking ever conducted. The SVS revealed several findings including:

  • Women were at greater risk than men.
  • Almost 75% of the victims knew their stalker.
  • Divorced or separated victims were at the highest risk of being stalked.
  • About 25% experienced some degree of cyber stalking.
  • More than 50% of the victims lost 5 or more days from work.

Relevance to the Workplace:

So what does stalking have to do with the Workplace? Several years ago an employee at a manufacturing company in the Midwest committed suicide. An investigation into the circumstances leading up to this tragic event revealed a major motivation for the suicide was related to the workplace. The victim had been in a very contentious relationship with a co-worker that was getting progressively worse, and he was suspected of vandalizing the personal property of this co-worker. This vandalism was a warning behavior often referred to as novel aggression. Threat assessment expert and author Gavin de Becker describes this as the subject’s way to test their ability to commit a violent act, albeit in this case it was against property and not a person.

The victim was also suspected of stalking a woman at a nearby company. That behavior is important since stalking is a significant risk factor as relates to targeted violence. As tragic as this event was, it could have been much worse. The suicide, which occurred away from company property, could have occurred on-site and tragically manifested itself as a homicide/suicide in the workplace. Our need to understand and respond to indicators of targeted violence, including stalking, is critical to ensure a safe workplace for our employees.

Stalking Behaviors:

The aforementioned SVS identified and measured responses to the following seven stalking behaviors:

  • Making unwanted phone calls.
  • Sending unsolicited or unwanted letters or emails.
  • Following or spying on the victim.
  • Showing up at places without a legitimate reason.
  • Waiting at places for the victim.
  • Leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers.
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

What Employers Need to Know:

  • Ensure stalking, as well as domestic or intimate partner violence, are part of your company’s workplace violence prevention and intervention program.
  • Remember that stalkers may also be employees that constitute another element of the “insider threat”.
  • Collaborate with Legal and HR on your company’s strategy when it comes to protection or restraining orders.
  • Each stalker presents a unique risk. Not all threats are equal and one size does not fit all when it comes to intervention strategies.
  • Stalking Assessment and Management (SAM) guidelines provide a structured assessment of the (1) the nature of the stalking; (2) perpetrator risk factors; and (3) victim vulnerability factors.
  • Engage a certified threat manager to assess and manage the threat of stalkers and utilize the SAM guidelines.
  • Liaison with law enforcement and leverage their resources when managing the stalking threat.
  • All fifty states have laws against stalking. Research and understand these laws as they apply to your company.