If someone seems unstable, do something!
Hours after 29-year-old Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. in the early morning hours of June 12, a former co-worker described the killer as racist, belligerent and toxic.
Daniel Gilroy, who once worked alongside Mateen as a guard for G4S Secure Solutions, a security company, stated that Mateen’s behavior was so disturbing that Gilroy requested a transfer so he would not have to work with him.
"He was scary in a concerning way," Gilroy told NBC News. "And it wasn't at times. It was all the time. He had anger management issues. Something would set him off, but the things that would set him off were always women, race or religion. [Those were] his button pushers.”
"I needed to be out of that situation," he added.
Federal agents interviewed Mateen twice in 2013 after co-workers stated that he made disturbing remarks about radical Islamic propaganda, according to an NBC News report.
"He was scary in a concerning way." — Daniel Gilroy in an NBC News report
It has since been reported that both Mateen’s wife and his ex-wife made statements about his anger issues, abuse of steroids and even comments about plans to make such a horrendous attack.
New reports are emerging about his background and earlier indications that Mateen possessed a volatile personality. Those who knew him seem to show no surprise that he was capable of such violence.
If, in fact, Gilroy’s security company employer did not take Gilroy’s request seriously, and did not look into Mateen’s behavior, one would hope the company — being a security company — would have conducted a more thorough background check on Mateen.
It’s even more troubling since a new report by CBS News just surfaced stating that Mateen was fired from a job at the Florida Department of Corrections in 2007. It also shows that his school records state that he was troublesome, angry, verbally abusive, rude and aggressive. The report indicates that Mateen was suspended for a total of 48 days during his time at middle school and high school.
Sometimes it’s who you don’t hire
I have stated a few times in my past that I am proud of my management record partly because of those I didn’t hire. When people hear this they look at me as if I’m the weird one. No, I’m the guy who helped avoid a troubled workplace, preserved team harmony and possibly prevented a disaster.
When I interview candidates for openings in my department, I tend to hope each candidate will say the right things. I’m eternally optimistic, seeing the good in each person and pulling for each candidate to say something brilliant. I’m hoping I will find the next superstar.
But as most interviews progress, reality sets in. There are those few cases in which I am astonished to hear a candidate say all the wrong things, and the red flags start to fly.
There are these conventional clues: The candidate has had several jobs in a small amount of time, the candidate complains about past employers, the candidate has lots of excuses, the candidate seems to be dodging questions, the candidate becomes agitated during the interview.
Case in point
Once I was interviewing a candidate for a low-level reporter position at a small paper. The candidate had a journalism degree from USC, experience as a reporter at a small Northern California newspaper and won several awards. Sounds good on paper.
We enjoyed a good conversation as a warm-up, and discussed his background. I had a feeling he left his last position under unusual circumstances, but couldn’t get to the bottom of it during the interview, so I dropped the subject for the time being.
The candidate had a big personality, nearly overwhelming. He threw his arms around when describing his experience and he raised his voice loudly on occasion. He wanted to do investigative reporting although I told him we were stretched pretty thin and needed to focus on more basic community news and features.
Still, he persisted. He was resolved to get this job even though he would have to drive a long distance to our office each day, the pay was low and the job description seemed pretty mundane compared to his past responsibilities.
“That guy is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
I got the feeling he had a chip on his shoulder for some reason, yet I liked the guy but hadn’t made up my mind as the interview came to a close. Just then he asked, “What time is it?”
He threw up his arms and dashed out of my office. I followed him out the door and witnessed him hurry down our stairs and across the street, hands waving in the air. “Hang on! I hope I didn’t get a ticket! Don’t give me a ticket!” he yelled.
He had parked in the post office parking lot across the street, even though it was clearly marked as a 15 minute zone.
As I watched him flail and hustle to his car, I remember thinking, “That guy is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Still, I waited a day to make up my mind. I notified him that we were not going to hire him and he was clearly disappointed, but we ended the conversation on a cordial note. So, I was surprised to hear a recorded phone message from him two days later. “Why didn’t you hire me?” he yelled. “I’m totally qualified. I have great experience.”
His message turned angry and went downhill from there.
I knew the best policy was not to respond. A day later he left another message. This time he apologized for his first message and begged me to reconsider hiring him.
A couple months later I was shocked to discover that our city’s large daily newspaper hired him. Sure enough, that was him being published on the paper’s website each weekend with breaking news and a few investigative articles — errors, typos and all.
Surely, they had more resources to investigate his background and verify his character than I. How; why did they hire him?
Having worked for that same news organization a couple years earlier gave me a few clues. First of all, they had a young recruiter who had no experience in the field of journalism. I had a less than fulfilling experience working with her. Then there was the fact that this paper hired staff members based more on their talent as it stood on paper, not necessarily for their personal character. This makes for problems sure to surface later. Just try managing an employee with excellent credentials but sloppy work habits, a high view of themselves and a personality from hell. It’s an all too common example, and a recipe for disaster.
The candidate that I decided to pass up earlier did not last a year with the big daily paper. Fortunately, the reporter I selected instead was a real team player and a quick learner who I later promoted.
While there is no solid proof the other candidate was unstable enough to ever pose a threat of violence if employed, I wasn’t going to take that chance. Based on my experience hiring employees, I’m betting he would have severely interrupted the delicate dynamic of my news team, which happened to be occupying a rather small, crowded work space at the time.
Trouble between employees
It’s obviously best to avoid hiring candidates who have potential to cause trouble, but none of us can see into the future. If there is any trouble once the employee comes aboard you, as the manager, must decide what course of action to take. The point is simple: take some action! Don’t ignore the problem. Consult your HR department, tell your supervisor, ask for help.
One situation many overlook is the possibility of conflicts between employees. This scenario is akin to being a parent with children who fight among themselves. It’s extremely disturbing and unacceptable. I have had this happen with employees a handful of times, but I only had to take major action and act as a formal mediator on two occasions, and both ended amicably. Still, I continued to monitor the interaction between these employees carefully, even going so far as to look through my office window to see that they got to their cars without confronting one another after work.
But I have also witnessed instances in which employees in other departments nearly came to blows. Believe me, these incidents are not pretty and they really put the whole company on edge.
Take action, don’t ignore the signs
I have plenty of examples of job candidates I did not hire who later caused problems at other news organizations, but none of them became violent as far as I know. I have heard stories of bad situations, scary situations at other companies.
All I have to say is this: As a manager, you have an obligation to staff your team with people who will get along; to provide a safe work environment for your employees; and to investigate any reported, alleged or perceived behavior that is disruptive, discriminatory or threatening.
Many reports of clues about the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack continue to surface; reports about the killer’s past behavior that should have indicated this man had the potential for violence. If only one of these clues would have prompted action, especially on the part of an employer, perhaps this terrible atrocity could have been preempted. That’s not to say an employer would necessarily contact law enforcement to report a suspicious job seeker, but this case seems extreme as facts continue to surface. It appears Omar Mateen gave every indication throughout his past that he had potential to be a mass murderer, and it’s almost surprising he didn’t become violent at his place of work.