Thursday, June 16, 2022

The 7th nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2022” is … the murder enabler

"It is with a deep sadness and a heavy heart I share one of our students, Riley Whitelaw, passed away over the weekend. Currently, we are unable to share additional information."

That was the introduction from a letter Air Academy HS Principal Dan Olson sent to students last week.

As you can imagine, the "additional information" is heartbreaking.

Riley Whitelaw, age 16, worked at a local Walgreens. According to KKTV 11 News, last year she told store managers that a coworker, Joshua Johnson (age 28), was making advances towards her that made her uncomfortable. On June 11 a manager discovered Ms. Whitelaw dead on the floor of the breakroom with neck injuries and covered in blood. Johnson is currently in custody on first-degree murder charges.

We have no idea what transpired between Ms. Whitelaw's initial complaint to management and her death on June 11. We don't know if Walgreen management took Ms. Whitelaw's complaint seriously. We don't know if it conducted an investigation. We don't know whether Johnson suffered any discipline. He certainly wasn't fired, because he continued working in the store despite the fact that a minor employee 12 years his junior complained of inappropriate and uncomfortable advances. Indeed, according to KRDO, the only action Walgreens management took in response to Ms. Whitelaw's complaint was to warn Johnson "to keep things professional."

This is the type of story that should keep HR professionals and business owners up at night. It's the worst-case scenario of workplace harassment. It also never should have happened. An employer cannot possibly hope to predict this level of violence. But it can take steps to mitigate it from happening. Step one is removing an employee from the workplace when another, more vulnerable employee complains about inappropriate advances. Given the ages of the people involved here, the remedial action certainly should have involved more than a "be professional" slap on the wrist. If I was lawyer counseling this business, I'd have advised to fire Johnson and file a police report.

Thankfully, stories like this one are few and far between. Let's keep it that way by taking all complaints of harassment seriously, investigating, and implementing appropriate and meaningful corrective action measured to the nature of the misconduct. 

Is there anything Walgreens could have done to stop this Johnson from (allegedly) murdering Ms. Whitelaw. We'll never know, because it didn't even try. And that's why it's my 7th nominee for the Worst Employer of 2022.

Colorado Springs PD Mugshot