Submitted by: WJ Cousins & Associates
Much has been written about how to handle the termination of an employee. One thing to always remember is, even when the employee is viewed as easy going and mild mannered, that same employee can turn to violent behavior. The question becomes, what can you do to help ensure a termination does not turn into a violent situation? The answer is preparation and prevention.
But before we discuss preparation and prevention, you must remember when terminating an employee, for whatever reason, you are taking away their ability to make a living. In some cases, you may be adversely affecting their ability to get another position in the near future. This is a stress factor for the employee, which can be compared to the same stress level a person feels when a close loved one dies or a divorce occurs. Because of this, you will need to use all your professional and people skills to correctly handle the meeting. If the situation goes badly it will reflect on you, not only by your management, but also by the other employees in the company. We all know when situations go bad, the “word” travels fast throughout the company.
Therefore, the preparation should begin the moment it is determined the employee has to be terminated.
Recommendation #1: Once the decision is made to terminate an employee, obtain any and all information you can about the employee and what is going on with them outside of the workplace. If you haven’t done so already, work with the employee’s immediate management to determine such things as, does the employee possess guns? What kind of mental or emotional stress might the employee be under outside of work (such as divorce, death, addiction or financial issues)? All these factors can be used to gather information which you can use to your advantage. Remember, the employee may or may not have any idea the termination is about to occur.
If you have obtained information that indicates the employee is prone to violence, or is known to carry a weapon, have plainclothes security professionals near the meeting room. These professionals should have training in de-escalating potentially violent situations. If your company does not have trained security professionals, contact a reputable security or risk management company for assistance.
Also, if you have a positive relationship with the local police, give them a call for advice on the termination and inform them it has the potential to get violent. By doing this, you are giving them advance notice so they can be better prepared to respond.
Recommendation #2: Where should the termination occur? Depending on the circumstances, it may be prudent to conduct the termination process at a neutral or off-site location, such as a lawyer’s office. If the meeting must be conducted on company property, do it away from other employees, such as in an unused conference room in the human resources department. Make sure it is a location where employees are not walking by or gathering for another meeting or lunch.
Recommendation #3: When should it be conducted? There are different schools of thought on this. Some would say it is best to do it on a Friday or just before a three-day weekend. This is not a good idea because as noted above, this can be a life changing event for the employee. The employee will most likely need emotional and legal assistance. If the termination is done just before a weekend, it will be difficult for them to obtain the emotional or legal counseling they may need. Instead, they may turn to alcohol or drug abuse, which only makes matters far worse for everyone involved. Therefore, it is recommended to have the termination on a Tuesday or Wednesday and in the early to midafternoon. This way when the employee is escorted off the premises, the employee has the opportunity to seek the help they may need.
Recommendation #4: Remember, the purpose of the meeting is to advise the employee of the termination, not to debate or give advice. Keep it brief, direct and to the point. If the employee wants to argue, advise them of their options, such as union representation or consulting with a labor lawyer. Depending on the individual and the situation, this entire process should take no more than ten to fifteen minutes.
Recommendation #5: You will need a reputable witness. It is best to have another HR professional or senior manager present. During the termination process, the witness should be seated in a position near the door. By sitting there, the witness can leave the room to get help if the situation appears to become potentially violent. Also, position yourself where you can walk out of the room without getting stuck between the door and the employee. This will give you the tactical advantage to get out of the room if the situation is unresolved or becomes “ugly.”
If the situation becomes tenuous, tell the employee you must go because you have another appointment, and exit the room as quickly as possible. Then call security for assistance.
Recommendation #6: Be prepared to escort the employee off the premises. Never do it alone! Always be accompanied by another management type person. This individual should walk behind you and the employee so as not to attract too much attention. This will allow them to act as a witness and call for assistance should the situation become tenuous or violent.
Recommendation #7: There are several options regarding what to do with the employee’s belongings. One is while the termination process is ongoing, a person from management can go to the employee’s office, cubicle or locker to gather up any articles of personal nature, such as family pictures and memorabilia. These items should be placed in a cardboard box and can be given to the employee as they exit the premises. The fired employee should be told that an inventory of their work area will be conducted and any additional personal items found will be forwarded to them at a later date.
Another option is to wait until the termination is over before doing a thorough inventory of the work area. After collecting inventory, all the personal items of the fired employee can be boxed up, and the box(es) can then be delivered to the employee by security or sent via mail.
Recommendation #8: Prepare yourself for the interview. In your own mind, you should be rehearsing possible scenarios that could occur. Not only potential violence, but what if the employee has an emotional breakdown or demands to see your superior or just tunes you out and sits and stares. What are you going to say or do? Be prepared to handle almost any scenario imaginable. It is always a good idea to consult with your legal department to know what to say and what not to say to the employee.
Recommendation #9: Have any and all documents related to the termination in either an envelope or manila folder. If a severance package is being offered, make sure the paperwork will be easily understood by the employee, especially if the package is offering a financial incentive or extended benefits. Go over all the paperwork and provide an explanation for each document. Due to the emotional stress of the situation, the employee will probably not grasp everything you are saying. To assist with this, the paperwork should contain a phone number that the employee can call if they have any questions or concerns.
Recommendation #10: Remember to always be professional and display a positive attitude during the process. This may assist in alleviating some of the stress from the employee. At the time of the termination, it may be difficult to remember this, but the employee is a human being. Treat and address them with respect. This may help diffuse a potentially bad situation before it even starts. It will surely be important if there is any subsequent litigation.
These are some brief recommendations that will assist you in the event of terminating a potentially hostile employee.
For additional information, contact Bill Cousins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-783-7190.