What Can Be Done About High-Conflict Employees?

As a former reporter in a high-pressure newsroom, I couldn’t help but be horrified a few weeks ago, when a disgruntled ex-news employee shot and killed a reporter and videographer live on T.V.

It shook me to the core, not just because of the tragic circumstances, but also because I remember working alongside many a disgruntled employee in the newsroom and wondering, “will this person hurt me or someone else?” In one instance, I thought a videographer was going to kill me. Honest.

What was striking about the story was how many news directors had “passed” this employee around from station to station, essentially putting dozens of employees at risk. Why would anyone allow such a high-conflict employee to move from job to job without recourse? Sadly, I learned that it’s illegal for a former employer to give a former employee a “bad” review. Instead, employers are only allowed to say, “yes, this person worked here from this time to this time.” For fear of a lawsuit, most employers won’t let potential employers know about the behavior of a high-conflict employee.

So, someone with violent tendencies with a history of conflict can simply move from place to place. Former employers are happy to rid themselves of such a person. But, the new employer has no idea what’s in store.

To me, this adds to the tragedy of what happened in Roanoke, VA–namely, the idea that this could have been avoided had higher-ups held the employee accountable for his actions. Instead, he was rewarded with job after job.

What can be done? I’m not sure. But, I hope the murders shed light on the ongoing problem facing employers and their responsibilities when it comes to giving references to employees who are constantly embroiled in conflict.


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