Virginia is considering a bill aimed at getting out in front of workplace violence by allowing companies to communicate freely with police about potential perpetrators.

Legislation introduced by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, would grant civil immunity to employers who share information about violent acts or threats made by current or former employees to potential employers or law enforcement. Employers would also get civil immunity for taking such information into consideration when making hiring decisions.

Under the bill, a job candidate could not sue a current, former or prospective employer for sharing information about that candidate’s previous violent or threatening behavior or for taking a person’s violent history into account when making hiring decisions.

Gunned down on live TV

Hurst has some personal experience with the effects of workplace violence. His girlfriend Alison Parker, a news reporter for TV station WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, was gunned down – along with cameraman Adam Ward – by a former station staffer who was angry over being terminated. Parker and Ward’s deaths were caught on camera as they were shot by former WDBJ reporter Vester Flanagan during a live interview.

Flanagan was fired after only a year at the station. Court documents showed that on several occasions, coworkers had felt uncomfortable or threatened by his behavior. He sued the station over his termination, but the suit was dismissed. Flanagan had previously filed a lawsuit against a station where he worked in Tallahassee, with similar results.

Flanagan’s turbulent employment history only came to light after the shooting, when journalists put together information from his stints at stations in San Francisco; Tallahassee, Florida; Greenville, North Carolina; Midland, Texas; and Savannah, Georgia to form a more complete picture of his behavioral problems.

Afraid of lawsuits

Bill HB 1457 would allow hiring managers to frankly discuss job candidates with their current or former employers.

Hurst said that due to the possibility of lawsuits, human resources managers currently are reluctant to discuss anything other than dates of employment when contacted by companies who are hiring their former employees.