Half Mast

Driving into Newtown yesterday, I was struck by one overpowering thing: Reminders of the tragedy were everywhere.  It was unrelenting.

  • Makeshift signs, near the I-84 exit, and on the roadside, say things like “Pray for Newtown”.
  • The Newtown flagpole, which dates back to 1876, is one of the icons in town.  An imposing figure that arises in the middle of an intersection in the town center, it stands at half-mast, it’s huge flag waving gently with the breeze.
  • Driving past a church stands an empty hearse, waiting for yet another burial.
  • News media are camped out with their signature satellite trucks popping up.
  • And traffic in a bucolic town.  Now and then, the traffic breaks, but only to have a processional of police cars, or first responders going from one event to another, getting through.

    Newtown BOE
  • And then there are flowers and makeshift memorials are on many corners and roadsides that dot the winter landscape with unusual color.

It feels so much like my hometown in Connecticut, even though it is nearly 50 miles away.  Yes, there are the shopping malls, but there are also just plenty of quiet corners with open fields next to classic New England houses.

As I noted earlier this week, my wife and I collected some gift cards for Sandy Hook elementary teachers to use for supplies for their new classrooms or whatever else they needed for their students.  My sincere thanks to all who contributed.  I was moved by the outpouring of support in our efforts over 48 hours.

I had the opportunity to drop the gift cards off at the Newtown Board of Education offices yesterday.  Outside, it was quiet, too quiet for a place of business.  Inside, there was a buzz of  professionals hard at work mixed with the occasional private, touching scene.   A hug to a Sandy Hook child who came for a visit.  A bigger hug to the parents.   The warmth was palpable yet there was also a steely resolve you could feel developing — a sense that school life must, somehow and someway, return.

Employment law will return to this blog, probably after the holidays and with some new ideas, just as those in Newtown will push forward.

But the hole in Connecticut will always remain.

Newtown BOE
Barren fields
Newtown Flagpole
Outside a Newtown church
Makeshift Memorial
Our gift card donation

 

 

 

 

The little gift card collection project that my wife and I did for 48 hours went very well and the cards were delivered earlier today. I’ll have a separate post about our efforts at some point soon.  In the meantime, others have asked what else they can do to help  Sandy Hook elementary school, particularly now that we are not taking any more collections.  I’ve received the following list from the school itself.  These are simple, concrete ways to make a difference. 

(Note: No more teachers’ supplies are going to be needed due to all that they have.)

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook
Please help the students of Sandy Hook have a winter wonderland at their new school! Get Creative!!  Make and send snowflakes to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT  06514, by January 12, 2013.

Coins for Sandy Hook:
Students can collect spare change to support their peers at Sandy Hook.  Other fundraising ideas include Walk- A -Thons, Spirit Days, Pajamas Days, etc. Please send contributions to “Connecticut PTSA Sandy Hook Fund” by February 14, 2013.

Ongoing Fundraising Efforts:
Donations are being accepted to the: “Connecticut PTSA Sandy Hook Fund” to support the ongoing needs of the Sandy Hook Community. Send checks to “Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514.Visit www.ctpta.org to donate online.  Phone: 203-281-6617  For questions please email us at sandyhook@ctpta.org. The Newtown community has requested monetary contributions, but we do know there may be service and product donations that will be offered. For service or product inquiries, please contact newtownboe@gmail.com If you have any questions please email Connecticut PTSA at office@ctpta.org

1:00 p.m. update: I’m hearing of slight delays in processing the e-gift cards at Target.  Just please make your contribution as soon as you can today and we’ll watch for them this evening if need be. You can also use Walmart, Staples or Amazon if you prefer.  I am extending the cutoff to donations until this evening due to the demand.    If, due to processing delays, the gift cards don’t arrive until after our delivery, we will attempt to do a followup delivery if necessary, but please, do not order more cards after today (12/18/12).   If you would like to contribute after today, I suggest the United Way relief fund here. 

Yesterday, I briefly mentioned a small personal collection project my wife and I were doing for 48 hours among our friends to get gift cards we could distribute to the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers to help them restock their classrooms with supplies.

Indeed, at that time, I learned from one of my law partners who lives next door to one of the teachers, that the school will be reopening in a temporary location in a few days. (The timing, I understand, is still up in the air.)  Because the old building is still be off limits, each teacher is going to need to figure out what his or her classroom needs.

The goal was, and still is, to collect these gift cards by 6 p.m. on Tuesday (today!) so we can bring them to Newtown on Wednesday morning.

Frankly, I mentioned it only in passing yesterday because I did not want to use this blog draw attention away from the many worthy charities out there taking collections.  After talking with a friend whose son goes to Sandy Hook, my wife and I just started this little “pass the hat” project to help the teachers and never dreamed others would want to help too.

But, this idea seems to have hit a nerve among my friends and colleagues, raising a whole lot in just 24 hours.  And several blog readers contacted me directly to help.

After sleeping on it, I came to one simple conclusion: what’s the point in having a blog if we can’t use it in times of real need?

(NOTE: The donation period has closed)

So, for today only (and please, nothing after today!), if you’d like to help, you can go to Target.com, and buy an e-gift-card in any amount. You can then send them to me via e-mail at dschwartz@pullcom.com.  (If you’d like to use a name, use Sandy Hook teachers or Sandy Hook PTA).   It takes the website several hours to process so the sooner the better.  We’ll take the cards over to Newtown in the morning.

(If you’re in Hartford, you can also drop off physical cards by 5 p.m. to my office at 90 State House Square, 13th Floor.)

Again, this is just a very short-term, targeted little collection effort from my wife and I to get it to teachers on an emergency basis.  Please be sure to donate generously to the many worthy charities that are going to need funds to help this community for years to come.

Thank you.

Normally, this blog writes itself. This morning, however, the words have not come easy.  Does writing about FMLA leave relating to the Newtown tragedy really matter?

Indeed, I’ve rewritten this post about 5 different times.  What can we say that will comfort those? What can we do to help those? Are we helpless to respond?

Yesterday, I heard from a friend whose kids go to Sandy Hook Elementary that the teachers will need the traditional beginning of the year school supplies as they move to a new location for the remainder of the year.   (Normally, teachers do this on their own.) So, my wife and I began a small personal collection of gift cards that we can hopefully give to teachers on Wednesday to help ease the transition.  (If you’d like to help, feel free to e-mail me at dschwartz@pullcom.com). 

But it still doesn’t seem enough.  

So I open this blog up to you. There are subscribers and readers from around the world and there are many worthy efforts to share.   Please add your suggestions on how to help. You can add a link to a local charity to share with others, or just post words of support for those who might be affected by this.

I was moved by the President’s words last night and, regardless of our politics, I hope we can take them to heart:

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

I had another post scheduled to go up this morning, but the news of the Newtown elementary school shooting makes it irrelevant. 

As of midday Friday, the reported death toll was 27, with over a dozen kids included.

As a father myself, the news is horrifying.  Absolutely horrifying. 

A few years ago, there was another mass shooting — this time at Hartford Distributors, Inc.  At the time, I penned a piece that asked, “Are there really any ‘lessons’ to be learned from evil?” 

I concluded no. Not really. And I knew, like we all do, that this type shooting would happen again. After all, it had happened in Connecticut with the Lottery Headquarters shooting back in 1998 too

Indeed, as we look for answers from this tragedy, perhaps its best to acknowledge that we can never truly understand what brings people to commit evil and that despite whatever efforts we might make, something like this will sadly happen again.

Today, Connecticut is in shock.  And we’re filled with unbelievable sadness.  My heart goes out to everyone in Newtown and all those affected by this.

Today’s shooting at a Kentucky plastics plant that killed five people is yet another reminder that courtesy morgue file "gun"employers need to continue to be vigilant in preventing workplace violence.

This year marked the 10-year-anniversary of one of the most infamous workplace violence incidents in Connecticut — the shooting at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters.  

As I indicated in a report from March, in hindsight, the employee exhibited signs of stress before the incident, even writing an angry letter to officials in the weeks prior.

The early reports from the Kentucky shooting lack details on the employee’s past history, but I would be very surprised if the employee didn’t have another lesser incident at the workplace prior to the shooting.  Unfortunately, to suggest that the incident could have been "avoided" falls within the Monday-morning quarterbacking purview.

So, after this incident, what can employers consider to reduce the risk of workplace violence?

  • Provide training to employees.  Recognizing the signs of potential workplace violence is crucial to any prevention campaign. Teach employees of the "warning signs" to look for and ensure that employees are sensitive to this area.
  • Encourage an "open door" policy. Much like New York Transit’s "If you see something, say something" slogan, the employer should encourage employees to report potential safety risks or unusual behavior. 
  • Don’t be afraid to contact the police.  Some employers take the view that they can handle a matter "internally".  Resist the urge. Contact law enforcement when appropriate; they may already have information on the subject that would help with an existing case or have knowledge of a prior history.  Obviously, not all incidents rise to that level, but some do.
  • Take incidents seriously.  While some employers have instituted "zero tolerance" policies, a one-size-fits-all policy may not be appropriate. Employers should consider what type of approach they want to take to workplace violence incidents or incidents of lesser severity that still indicate a problem.  Employers should immediately respond to such incidents when they happen. 

There are plenty of resources available to employers out there including information available on OSHA’s website

Other blogs have already started discussing the case from an employment perspective as well including EmployeescreenIQ blog, and Michael’s Moore’s detailed recap on the Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Law blog. 

For some additional background on states that have implemented laws that may make it more difficult for employers to ban guns on the workplace, such as Georgia, see The Word on Employment Law’s take on it.   Lastly, from January, there was an interesting article about using harassment restraining orders as a tool to reduce workplace violence that is also worth a read.

UPDATE 8/3/10: In light of today’s workplace shootings in Manchester, I’ve provided some additional thoughts on workplace violence with reference back to the lottery headquarters shootings.

In small states like Connecticut, at times it feels like everyone is separated by something less than Six Degrees. 

Ten years ago today, a troubled worker walked into the headquarters for the Connecticut Lottery and shot and killed four top lottery officials, before turning the gun on himself.  Although I didn’t know anyone personally, others that I worked with did.

The New York Times article the day after the shooting tells a story that is as haunting and chilling today as it was ten years ago:

Angered about a salary dispute and his failure to win a promotion, a Connecticut Lottery accountant reported promptly to his job this morning, hung up his coat and then methodically stabbed and gunned down four of his bosses, one of whom he chased through a parking lot, before turning the gun on himself.

As the shots rang out through the hallways of the lottery headquarters here in this quiet Hartford suburb, witnesses and the police said, dozens of employees, some yelling, ”Run to the woods,” headed into the brushy hillside surrounding the office while others dived into nearby ditches.

The gunman, Matthew Beck, 35, had walked into the executive offices, stabbed and shot one top official and shot two others — saying ”bye-bye” to one of them — and then chased the State Lottery president, Otho R. Brown, several hundred yards into a parking lot. Mr. Brown, 54, stumbled as he ran, the police said, and just as officers arrived on the scene, they saw Mr. Beck fire a semiautomatic handgun at the executive, killing him immediately.

Within seconds, as two Newington police detectives approached Mr. Beck, he put the gun, a 9-millimeter Glock, to his right temple and shot himself, said John Connelly, the head of the state police.

In addition to Mr. Brown, the other victims were three of the most senior managers at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, a quasi-public authority: Linda Mlynarczyk, 37, chief financial officer, of New Britain; Frederick Rubelmann 3d, 40, vice president of operations, of Southington, and Michael Logan, 33, information systems manager, of Colchester.

The Hartford Courant, in fact, won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of that event.  In light of headlines each month about various shootings at workplaces around the country, it seems foolish to suggest that this particular shooting led to massive changes here. But I think for many, it did change the way we think about workplace violence issues.

In hindsight, the employee exhibited signs of stress before the incident, even writing an angry letter to officials in the weeks prior.  After this incident, I’m certain there were some employers who took any threat by an employee much more seriously.  I’m not suggesting that more should’ve been done beforehand (I don’t know enough about it to judge), but I do think that employers in the state were re-awakened to the need to have and enforce workplace violence policies.  Employee Assistance Programs seemed more prominent and discussions about guns in the workplace followed. 

Others have written about workplace violence policies and suggestions to follow. But on today’s anniversary (on which the Governor has suggested a moment a silence at 8:45 a.m.), perhaps the best thing we all can do is simply to recall the events of that horrible day and resolve that the lessons learned from that day won’t be forgotten.