Terminating someone’s employment is never easy. Often, that person has been with the company for years. They may feel hurt, confused, or even angry. Workplace violence accounted for 458 deaths, and over 18,000 injuries in 2017 according to Injury Facts.
As workplace violence has risen, it has become more important for managers and administrators to better understand when a situation in the workplace has become potentially dangerous. Whether it be a violent patient in a healthcare setting, an angry parent in a school, or a disgruntled former employee at a place of business, understanding how to deal with employees, and in the case of this article, former employees, has become vital to not only the success of a business, but the health and well-being of those still in the workplace.
As the Aurora Warehouse tragedy showed, there are often signs that an employee may become violent. Understanding and directly addressing those signs, while also considering potentially unknown factors of violence during an employee’s firing can help keep everyone involved safer.
Understand That It Could Happen
According to the SHRM most employers strategy when dealing with workplace violence after a firing is to simply “hope it won’t happen". However, as they discuss in their article, it is important to be prepared for the possibility.
At The LockOut Company, we follow several principles discussed by SHRM when the unfortunate act of firing must be performed. As a safety and lockdown company, we deal with situations everyday in which we are assessing the security and volatility of both locations and potential threats to those locations. When developing protocols for businesses, addressing the potential violence of a newly fired employee is near the top of the list.
None of us want to believe that someone we’ve spent time working with, laughed with, and potentially even been friends with will harm us, but it does happen. People who have been fired sometimes feel that they have nothing to live for. In those situations a person who has a hidden proclivity to violence has the potential to become dangerous.
Understanding that it could happen, and keeping our heads “out of the sand" is one of the first steps to setting the stage for a safe firing.
Treat The Employee With Respect
Sometimes a firing can go wrong because of the actions of those doing the firing. There is never an excuse for violence, though handling a firing correctly can help to limit the possibility. Entrepreneur Online states that “minimizing embarrassment" to the employee is key in a successful firing. By allowing the firing to take place in private, potentially after other employees have gone home, you give the fired employee the dignity of not having to clear out their office in a potentially emotional state while others are nearby.
According to Career Lab, armed guards should only escort the employee off the property in potentially dangerous scenarios. To avoid embarrassment, the employee should be allowed to leave on their own, after the private meeting regarding the termination, which may have included security personnel, and then allowed to return with an escort after hours to retrieve their belongings.
Giving the employee your utmost respect, and allowing them to maintain their dignity can be a driving force in a safe firing. The concern for safety is not only for the worst-case scenario of a fired employee returning as an active shooter, but also for assaults, short violent outbursts, the need for security and potential injury therein, and other, less dangerous scenarios that can still cause harm to the fired employee or other.
Understand The Employee
Is the employee easy to anger? Are they known to discuss violence? Do they have any violent incidents in their history? Do they own a weapon? These, as well as other questions are important to understand when firing an employee.
Asking yourself if the employee is having a difficult time in other areas of their life can also be helpful. Many incidents of violence leave survivors and former compatriots of the offender shocked. “We never would have thought…" often starts many of the descriptions of the feelings of those affected after the incident. Often it is a shock and a surprise, but had there been even minimal research, the potential for violence could have been uncovered.
SHRM discusses an incident in which a terminated employee was known to search the internet for various guns while at work. As the firing took place in Texas, the manager knew that employees were allowed to keep weapons in their cars. He took pictures of an open box of ammunition in the vehicle and then learned that the employee’s wife had just left him. Knowing these factors, and believing that the employee may feel they have “nothing to live for", the manager brought twelve off-duty police officers to the location in case the employee returned with the weapon. Fortunately, he did not, but the manager was prepared because he understood the employee and prepared, which leads us to our next consideration.
We’ve had terminations where we believed there was minimal risk for violence, but still brought an extra two or three members of our management team to the meeting, as well as security just in case. As the above anecdote from Texas describes, preparation is key in firing any employee, and extra preparation should be considered for employees that have shown any potential for violence.
Informing security personnel of the termination situation, and including them in the process can greatly reduce the potential for violence. If you are a small business and do not have security, then bringing one or more off-duty police officers on site during and after the termination can be both a deterrent for violence and a response should the employee become hostile. Law enforcement are usually understanding of the situation, and in most cases are happy to assist where needed.
Give the picture of the fired employee, especially if there is a perceived potential for violence, to those that may be assisting in the termination. Give a picture to the front desk, or any administrative personnel, and ensure that they understand that if the employee returns to the facility or is seen nearby, that security is to be informed.
If your facility is equipped with a lockdown system, and the employee returns after explicit instructions to stay away from the facility, going into secure mode is not out of the question.
Further preparation for the firing itself can be made to help transition the employee. Prepare their severance or benefit package in advance and clearly explain it to them, and accompany the explanation with written documents. Career Lab explains that this added preparation can defuse a potentially hostile employee as fear of the unknown is often a motivator for aggression.
Bringing in an outside “outplacement team" can be effective as well, especially for larger companies with longstanding employees. Being terminated is never easy, and having professionals perform the act can be beneficial.
Preparation can be the difference between a routine termination and a violent incident. It’s very difficult to over-prepare, but insufficient preparation can lead to a dangerous situation.
If the termination begins to turn toward arguing, or accusations, or especially threats, it has clearly moved in a direction that could result in a dangerous situation. To avoid this, ensure that the firing is brief, objective, and non-negotiable.
In their confusion, and at times anger, terminated employees may argue or become verbally aggressive. It’s important in these situations not to escalate with the employee. By remaining objective, brief, and non-negotiable, a manager may avoid escalation all-together. If the manager recognizes that the employee is escalating, then the prepared assistance can step in and remove the employee.
By clearly stating the facts of the termination, as well as all possible outplacement information, you give the employee closure. Hopefully, your termination process has removed any surprise to the underperforming employee through standard reviews, as well as informative meetings to give the employee information on their status within the company, and any potential steps that will be taken, including termination, if their performance does not improve.
If the termination is a surprise to the employee, or comes about on the grounds of misconduct, extra preparation may be needed both legally and for safety, and that preparation, as well as the correct environment during the termination meeting can greatly reduce the risk for escalation, aggression, and potential violence.
If you have any questions, or want more information on how to safely terminate an employee please feel to contact-us.