Rutgers graduate’s “Dying on the Job” – the first book of its kind – delves into issues about killing co-workers as few authors have

Image of book Dying on the Job
Ron Brown studied more than 350 workplace murders in preparing to write Dying on the Job, the first book to focus exclusively on workplace murder.

‘A gun-free workplace, along with zero tolerance for violence, insulates an employer from possible legal liability if a workplace shooting does occur.’
– Ronald D. Brown Author, Dying on the Job

The murders of two journalists by an apparently disgruntled former employee that played out on live TV in Roanoke, Virginia, last week were horrifying reminders of the vulnerabilities workers may face at their jobs.

When WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot to death, millions of workers once again wondered and news analysts began debating whether employers are doing enough to secure their facilities and to screen job applicants.

In Dying on the Job (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012), the first book to focus exclusively on workplace murder, Ronald D. Brown, who graduated from Rutgers College and Rutgers School of Law, claims much more employee protection is needed.

“A gun-free workplace, along with zero tolerance for violence, insulates an employer from possible legal liability if a workplace shooting does occur,” wrote Brown, who recommends a series of measures to greatly diminish the possibility of workplace murders.

In addition to stronger screening techniques to detect weapons carried into the workplace, Brown noted that ineffective pre-employment screenings continue in use, and believes that a better understanding of workplace homicide is needed. The WDBJ station manager, Jeff Marks, said in a news conference, “We can probably screen more.”

The killer in this week’s homicides, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan, had been fired from WDBJ and has been portrayed as an aggrieved worker there as well as at another TV station, from which his employment had also terminated. According to news reports, Flanagan was a black man who believed he was a target of racism in the workplace and a gay man who felt demeaned.

Headshot of Ronald Brown
Brown writes that more employee protection and a deeper understanding of workplace homicides are needed and recommends measures to diminish their likelihood.
Photo: Courtesy Ronald Brown

Each year, according to Brown, approximately 800 employees are killed in brutal homicides in the American workplace, nearly 75 percent of them committed by single men in their 40s. Brown’s research found that more than 25 percent of the murderers confessed that they acted in response to being teased and taunted on the job.

“Often, dramatic changes in the lives of workplace murderers precede the killings – among them, job loss, loss of a spouse or long-time partner, news confirming an incurable disease or dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs,” Brown writes. “In many cases, warning signs, such as employees carrying guns in their cars or signing up for target practice lessons, are missed.”

In conducting research for his book, Brown studied 350 workplace murders, analyzing the motivations behind slayings, the possible warning signs and security measures companies that might have prevented the attacks.

He found that the employee most likely to snap was commonly labeled “loser” or “jerk” and considered among a company’s most pathetic, ineffective and socially stunted employees.

Images of Alison Parker and Adam Ward
WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and camerman Adam Ward, who were killed during a live TV broadcast last week.

Brown’s motivation to write Dying on the Job was sparked by the case of Harvard-trained neurobiologist Amy Bishop. Denied tenure and certain she would lose her job, Bishop shocked the nation when, in 2010, she killed three colleagues and wounded three others with a nine-millimeter semiautomatic handgun at a University of Alabama biology faculty meeting in Huntsville.

What made Bishop so compelling for Brown is that the Ivy League mother of four, who pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in 2012 and is imprisoned for life without parole, did not fit the profile of most workplace murderers, only 14 percent of whom are women. 

More than 56 percent of workplace killers are blue-collar workers. A majority of those murders were committed in either a factory or warehouse, only 8 percent at universities, colleges or schools.

Brown wrote that a workplace murder not only can destroy employee morale and productivity but also devastate a company, leaving it vulnerable to lawsuits and bankruptcy.

“After a workplace murder, even large companies can fold, slowly go under and never bounce back,” Brown explains. “Most survive, but it’s never the same.”

A father of two who attended Newark’s Arts High School, Brown honed his researching and writing skills during more than 30 years practicing law, including as an assistant U.S. Attorney. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito and former Attorney General Eric Holder were among his classmates in his U.S. Attorneys training seminar.

As a private practitioner, Brown earned verdicts in two high-profile cases that significantly enhanced his reputation and standing as a versatile attorney. He argued before the U.S. Supreme Court for his clients’ right to build and operate a lucrative cable television franchise in Jersey City. In a closely watched case, he won a controversial dismissal of all charges against two Muslim men from Boston who were indicted on charges including an Essex County homicide.

When Brown left his practice, he joined the Department of the Army research facility at the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, where he developed an affinity for labor and employment law. Soon after, the Beacon, New York resident completed an LLM in labor and employment law at Columbia University’s School of Law in 2004. Currently, he is a labor law specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, spending his down time writing books.

A new book, Women and Murder on the Job, is slated for publication later this year.

“Nobody’s ever compared men and women murderers in the workplace,” says Brown. “Men can take six weeks to decide to shoot the boss. Women decide in an hour. And there’s still a great disparity in how the criminal justice system treats men and women and shameful disparities in who actually ends up on death row.”