08/04/2010 03:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Victims of Discrimination Take Matters Into Their Own Hands

Immediately after reading the news flash about another unfortunate shooting in a Connecticut workplace, I said a prayer for wounded and then searched for information about the shooter's motivation. I was not surprised when I read on that the alleged shooter told his uncle, "I killed the five racists that was there that was bothering me." As in most instances of workplace violence, the alleged shooter was probably a victim of unchecked discrimination.

Earlier this year, Yale New Haven Hospital suffered a tragic loss when a doctor was shot and killed by a former colleague who also alleged discrimination.

While Hartford Distributors--a family owned beer distributor--denies that Omar Thornton, the alleged shooter, ever complained about discrimination, I found it interesting that they did not mention whether their company provided training to educate their employees about preventing, detecting and correcting workplace discrimination.

As an employment lawyer who conducts compliance training, I know that some companies view diversity, anti-discrimination, and harassment training as a frill. Begrudgingly, they will hold compliance training sessions if it is mandated by a lawsuit or statute. (Although Connecticut employers with at least 20 employees are required to provide at least two hours of anti-harassment training every two years to their managers, there is a huge question mark as to whether companies are in compliance. To my knowledge, the CT Commission on Human Rights has not conducted an audit recently.)

Yet, organizations like the U.S. Veterans Administration have experienced tremendous value from workforce training. A few years ago, the VA found that compared to the US Postal Service, they had more cases of physical and verbal violence. In 2008, 250,000 VA employees reported that a co-worker had engaged in exclusionary behaviors such as gossiping, withholding information, and bullying.

In response, the VA embarked on a comprehensive training campaign to improve workplace civility called Civility Respect and Engagement in the Workplace (CREW). Understanding that workplace safety is connected to workplace inclusion, the CREW training programs tackled issues of supervisor diversity acceptance, worker reliability, and a host of other workplace violence indicators. As a result, workplace civility and workplace satisfaction have increased and discrimination complaints have decreased at the VA.

Until companies understand that compliance training is a proactive investment, they will continue to be on the reactive end of brewing workplace disputes. If employees do not know how to handle workplace disputes, sadly, they may take matters into their own hands. Compliance training is about empowering people with information about their rights and responsibilities. The last thing Connecticut needs is for workplace violence to become a steady habit.