Indianapolis shooting highlights workplace policies amid uncertain climate

19 April 2021

Stephen Murphy, a FedEx employee, at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana.(Photo by Jeff Dean / AFP)

Concerns have emerged regarding a FedEx workplace policy following another horrific mass shooting in the US last week, this one at an Indianapolis FedEx sorting and packaging center. In the aftermath of the latest incident, the plant’s ‘no cell phone’ policy has drawn attention to the best interests of assembly line workers and the workplace safety implications of such policies.

A gunman shot and killed eight people late last Thursday, and immediately following the shooting incident at FedEx’s Ground Plainfield Operations Center in Indianapolis, dozens of families were left scrambling to find out the status of their family and friends.

Their status was not immediately clear as there were about 100 employees working at the Indianapolis facility at the time the shooting occurred, according to law enforcement officials, and the company does not permit the majority of workers (with the exception of “authorized team members”) to bring phones onto the facility grounds.

Following the mass shooting perpetrated by a former employee, the remaining workers were bused to a neighboring hotel near the Indianapolis International Airport as the police sealed off their work area – now considered a crime scene. Due to the ‘no cell phones’ policy, most workers’ devices were either in their vehicles or in the locker room, and they were not allowed to retrieve them by authorities prior to being sent to the hotel.

This meant that the majority of concerned heard about the shooting in the media, and had to endure an overnight wait at a packed Indianapolis Holiday Inn Express to find out if their loved one had been hurt, or worse.

FedEx initially told Business Insider in the aftermath of the Indianapolis shooting that it is revisiting this particular workplace policy. But since then, a FedEx spokesperson has written to a local Indianapolis newspaper to say the shipper will not be altering its cell phone policy at its sorting centers despite the mass shooting incident.

“Our cell phone policy is based on workplace safety considerations and we believe continues to be in the best interests of our team members while they are on duty,” FedEx spokesman Chris Allen said in an April 17 written statement to the IndyStar, declining to elaborate or say whether other security precautions are being reviewed.

Interestingly, some shipping and supply chain consultants concur with FedEx’s stance on this particular workplace policy, citing how it could be disruptive for workplace productivity and ultimately, be a safety liability on assembly floors.

“Cell phones can be a distraction that harms employees or hurts others,” Satish Jindel, the president of SJ Consulting Group and ShipMatrix, told IndyStar. “You establish your procedures for day-to-day operations. You don’t plan them for mass shootings.” The FedEx Indianapolis hub has 4,000 workers spread out over several facilities who work with heavy assembly line equipment.

Jindel points out how even if most workers complied by switching off their mobiles, the invariable few who would keep their smartphones on could cause assembly line slowdowns and subsequent supply chain disruptions.

Dean Maciuba, a managing partner with shipping consultant Half Mile Experts, says he understands employee misgivings, but after working 35 years at FedEx, also grasps how the shipper’s distribution hubs work.

“Those are dangerous places,” said Maciuba, inferring how mobile devices on the floor could be detrimental. “There are all sorts of belts and chains and lifts and packages flying around. If you are not alert someone could get hurt.”