The Break Room: Broken Glass

Domestic violence shatters more than personal lives – it can cross into the workplace, too.

In 2007, I lived just down the street from a McDonald's in Lakewood, Ohio. On July 7 that year, I heard sirens in the neighborhood but didn't think much of it. When I passed McDonald's later that day, I was surprised to see the store was closed. The building exterior was crossed with police tape, and one of the front windows was broken. I speculated that the store had been subjected to vandalism or a similar crime.

As it turns out, reality was much, much worse. That morning, a young man named Nathaniel Williams Jr. entered the store and fatally shot 26-year-old Robert "Shawn" Joslin, a McDonald's employee, in the head. Williams then fled to a nearby railroad trestle, where he surrendered to police after a brief standoff.

Workplace violence wasn't at the front of my mind in the initial hours and days I learned the tragic news. Instead, I watched somberly as the broken window was boarded up, as the store reopened and customers returned, as shrines sprouted near the location of Joslin's murder and, finally, as the window was replaced. 

Shortly thereafter, when I began working at EHS Today (then Occupational Hazards), I came across an interactive workplace fatality map. I accessed the map and clicked on my own city to see what work-related fatalities had hit closest to home – and the first fatality that popped up was this McDonald's homicide.

Joslin was a McDonald's employee, and he was murdered inside his place of employment. But his murder also is a grisly result of domestic violence. 

According to media reports, Williams, who had a history of domestic violence, was distraught that his estranged wife and their daughter were staying with Joslin. As Williams grew increasingly upset about his wife's new relationship, he began harassing Joslin, even at work. This all culminated on the morning of July 7, when he followed Joslin into the McDonald's lobby and shot him in the head.

I thought about this incident when I attended a recent workplace violence seminar in Cleveland. It turns out that work and home aren't always as separate as we like to imagine – especially when a violent abuser seeks the victim out for a confrontation. 

 

During the seminar, Pam Paziotopoulos, Esq., senior vice president of the workplace violence and intimate partner violence division at Forest Advisors, discussed cases of employees who were killed or harassed at work by their intimate partners. "When you break up with someone, they might not know where you live, but they know where you work," she explained. 

And because domestic violence victims tend to keep their abuse private out of fear of appearing weak or experiencing workplace retaliation, they withhold vital safety information from their employers. If workers feel comfortable reporting potential problems – such an ex-spouse who has been making threatening phone calls to the office – the employer could take steps to ensure the workplace is secure and protected in the event the abuser tries to take action. (You can learn how employers can prevent and address workplace violence in my four-part series covering the seminar, "Practical Preparedness for Workplace Violence," on EHSToday.com.)

As for me, I no longer live on the street where the shooting took place. Even the McDonald's itself has packed up and moved to a different location. The now-vacant building is being renovated as part of an expansion of a nonprofit natural food store and vocational rehabilitation facility. This means that the space that once sold fast food and served as a backdrop to an incident of workplace violence will soon host natural food catering services and vocational training for people with disabilities. 

I admit I'm overjoyed this building gets a new life as part of a nonprofit organization with an admirable mission. But I also can't forget that there will never be a fresh start for Shawn Joslin.

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