In the event of a terrible crime like the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, people naturally look for someone to blame. Omar Mateen, the perpetrator, is dead, which means they will look elsewhere. The obvious choices are Islamic State for inspiring or directing him, and the authorities for not stopping him. But for exactly the same reason some blame will also inevitably fall on those who knew him: friends, family, community and, yes, employer.
Mateen’s employer from 2007 until his death was G4S, a fact that numerous news outlets thought worthy of a headline. Nestled in the background section of several of these stories are the controversies G4S has been involved in over the last few years, from tagging to staffing Palestinian detention centres.
No one said G4S is to blame in any way for the shooting, but the association between those two facts – G4S employed Mateen as an armed security guard and G4S has had reputational ‘issues’ - will not be lost on their readers. The inference could be made very easily that G4S somehow didn’t vet him properly or should have picked up on warning signals.
This would be entirely unfair, however. How do you actually tell whether one of your employees is a terrorist? It’s not exactly something people are likely to admit to. Were there warning signs? Probably, but as these appear to have been insufficient to tip off his family over what he was capable of, it seems unreasonable to have expected his employer to have noticed.
It is true, as G4S pointed out in a brief media statement, that it was made aware that the FBI had questioned Mateen in 2013 over support for extremist causes he had apparently given in front of colleagues. But how should the company have reacted to this information?
The FBI found insufficient cause to charge him with anything and dropped the investigation, meaning incidentally that G4S’s vetting procedures were no less effective in this case than the FBI’s. If G4S had chosen to fire him then, in response to what was an unproven allegation or indeed for expressing a constitutionally protected opinion, there would surely have been outrage.
Even if they had fired him, it’s far from clear Mateen wouldn’t have been able to conduct the attack anyway – he had two gun licences and was off duty at the time. Besides, it’s not as though the authorities didn’t already know about him.
This isn’t to say that G4S did everything perfectly – the details of this case and Mateen’s life in and out of work are only just beginning to emerge, so it’s simply too early to say that yet. Rather, it’s that it would have been remarkable for a company with 600,000 employees to have been able to prevent each and every one of them from committing a crime outside of work – even one as terrible as this - when the authorities had already sniffed around and left him be.
Whether everyone will see it that way remains to be seen. The early signs - G4S's share price fell more than 5% on Monday morning - aren't good.