I have a fascination with the weird. I’m a firm believer in truth being stranger than fiction and there’s a lot of strange to be found if you go looking for it. I listen to people talk, watch the news on TV and scan the newspapers for the kinds of things that make me say wow. For me, anything weird or bizarre makes the basis for great fiction. My first book, Accidents Waiting to Happen, centered on the world of viatical settlements where people can trade life insurance policies on the living. We All Fall Down fictionally explored the odd happenings surrounding the real life death of three coworkers. All three men committed suicide in disturbing ways and never left any explanation. The peculiar goings on of the real world are also at play in my latest book, Terminated.
Terminated explores workplace violence. The book deals with a female boss who becomes the focus of a disgruntled employee’s angry fixation. Violence in the workplace in one form or another is probably something we’ve witnessed or encountered up close at some point at our day jobs. That’s not the weird bit. The weird bit is that according to government statistics, twenty people die at their place of work every week in the US. Now, this isn’t all coworker on coworker violence. A large majority is upset customer or robberies gone bad, but regardless, twenty people dying on the job is a scary number. And do you want to know which careers are most dangerous? If you’re thinking cop or corrections officer at a supermax prison, you’re wrong. It’s retail. By far, working retail is the most dangerous career out there when it comes to workplace murders. You’re safer working in a coal mine than at a department store when it comes to someone going postal.
I bet some of you are going to wake up in a cold sweat tonight. You’re welcome.
But government stats weren’t responsible for me writing Terminated. The weird bit that got my imagination going was what some companies are doing to combat workplace violence. Companies have begun adding up the cost of this type of violence. There’s the financial impact of lost time and firing and rehiring personnel, the legal costs incurred in prosecuting employees and defending the company against civil suits, bad PR and the disruption to employee morale. The financial list is endless. Companies obviously do their best to prevent these situations with employment policies and preventative measures. At my last job, the job offer was subject to a drug screen and extensive background check which included checking my criminal history, calling old bosses in the UK and interviewing friends, my wife and in-laws to see if I ever did anything horrible like beat my wife. I once had to submit to a handwriting analysis at another job. I didn’t get the position, so I’m not sure what that says about me and my chicken scratch. I’ve known people to be polygraphed for a job. Skeletons in someone’s closet aren’t necessarily used to exclude someone from their job but having them out in the open helps avoid certain situations—or so they say. Don’t ask me who “they” are.
Private security firms are being employed to investigate workplace violence claims. They determine the validity of the claim, provide personal protection for the employee in danger and their family and investigate the threatening employee. Investigating the threatening employee was where it got interesting for me. Depending on the circumstances, the security firm will investigate the employee without their knowledge—run a background check, interview witnesses, and even shadow the suspect’s moves. They will look for direct evidence pertaining to a physical threat, but also evidence not directly connected to the claim. If the investigators can unearth some skeletons that someone wouldn’t want earthed, they sometimes use them as leverage to make the disruptive employee leave the firm. Getting the troublesome employee to leave is often easier than entering into a legal battle over the matter. Companies aren’t interested in how the problem is resolved just as long as it’s resolved.
Needless to say, the concept of private security firms investigating workplace violence claims got my imagination running. It’s perfect story fodder for me. I saw the merits for such a measure and the limitations of going down this path. I wanted to explore what would happen even with these failsafes in place. What if the company failed to protect the employee in peril, forcing the employee to solve the problem themselves? In Terminated, the only person who can save Gwen Farris is Gwen Farris.
There’s eight million and one stories in the naked world and I’m always endeavor to find them and turn them into books. I can’t wait to unearth them.
This concludes the Book of the Month postings for Terminated, so if you’d like a little light reading, you can read the first five chapters here: