CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The woman who filed a $50 million lawsuit this week against Walmart said the company should have known about the gunman’s “long-standing pattern of disturbing and threatening behavior,” and should have required him to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Another employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, also shared her concerns this week about the gunman’s behavior. The gunman had worked at the Walmart location for 12 years.
Christian Connell is an employment attorney based in Norfolk and is not connected to the case. He said that he believes the company could have required a mental health evaluation.
“If several people communicate to you, or if one person communicates to you that this individual has been making threats to other workers – I don’t think you have to weigh, I don’t think an employer is tasked with determining how much truth there is to that, I think they could probably require that employee to undergo a mental health evaluation,” Connell said in an interview.
A professional counselor based in Chesapeake said he has seen several instances where an employer required a mental health evaluation.
“(In one of them) an employee filed a grievance against this other employee, and after reviewing it they decided that it was an issue of anger management,” said David Martin, a Critical Incident Stress Management Counselor.
If a worker refuses to undergo the evaluation and counseling, quitting or firing is the next likely step. In that situation, Connell says the ultimatum could actually backfire.
“The double-edged sword is this: for any employer in this situation the firing may trigger the behavior that you don’t want to see,” Connell explained. “So if you fire the employee he may come back in and be angry about the firing.”
But experts disagree on just how much information the employer can get from an employee’s mental health treatment.
“I think they can require you to have a mental health evaluation and they get to know if the evaluator thinks that you are fit to work there,” Connell said.
However, Martin says employers are very limited in what they can learn from the treatment.
“There’s not a requirement to report back to the manager, just simply to report back that they had followed through (with attending the counseling sessions)”.
If during the treatment, the employee talks about specific threats, the employer and law enforcement must be notified.
“If a person is of harm or potential harm to others or themselves, you’re required to report that,” Martin said.
Walmart did not have any immediate comment on the lawsuit, saying it will respond in the courts.