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Terminations and layoffs are the leading causes of workplace violence committed by employees, according to Johnny Lee, director of Peace at Work, an agency dedicated to violence prevention in the workplace.
Being respectful of the terminated employee betters the chances that the employee will walk away without engaging in retaliatory behavior, Lee said.
Terminating an employee is a difficult and uncomfortable experience. Some common mistakes managers make can turn a bad situation worse, Lee said during a webcast. Managers might deny problems with the employee, in order to avoid confrontation, or not be honest with the employee during performance evaluations or the termination process.
Managers should not give favorable ratings to poor performers, Lee said. Confronting employees about concerns, whether related to job performance or behaviors, will give them a chance to be more emotionally prepared if and when you have to terminate. Being fired unexpectedly, especially after receiving favorable performance appraisals, is more likely to lead to a sense of betrayal and unfairness. Feeling betrayed can exacerbate some employees’ violent tendencies.
Another mistake managers make is acting too hastily, Lee said. “The belief that ‘if we can just terminate the individual and get him or her out the door, our problems would be over’ is not only incorrect but can have deadly consequences. The most dangerous time in these high-risk cases will be after the termination.”
Although most separations go smoothly, any termination can go wrong. It is wise to review your outplacement practices and conduct a preliminary threat assessment to ensure safety, Lee said.
“For many people, losing a job is traumatic,” he said. “The moment of separation can be a crisis. If it’s handled well, everything can go smoothly. But if it’s handled poorly, anything can happen.”
Lee recommended that managers prepare security measures prior to the termination meeting. For example:
For high-risk individuals, managers should consider hiring on-site security, holding the meeting off-site, terminating by letter and using surveillance, Lee advised.
Lee recommended the following actions to increase the likelihood of a safe termination:
In delivering the message, management should be brief and to the point, providing clear reasoning for the termination, Lee said.
Provide managers with a written script spelling out exactly what to say and what to avoid. Keep the meeting brief, about 10 to 15 minutes. The less said the better.
“The termination meeting is not the time for negotiation, but do let them share their voice,” he said.
Emphasize respect during the meeting, stating the company’s position without using slander, humiliation or criticism. Do not engage in argument. Allow the departing employee to save face and maintain self-esteem by acknowledging their strengths and contributions.
Explain what the company policy is regarding references. Let them know what you will say to a prospective employer. “It is in your best interest that they get another job,” Lee said.
Be clear about your policies regarding their return to the office, collecting personal items, communicating with other employees, and use of trespass orders or workplace restraining orders.
You can offer benefits and severance pay to take the edge off the situation, Lee advised, including:
An important element of the threat assessment process is knowing what to look for during interactions with the separating employee. Obviously, take note of threats made toward management, whether direct or veiled. “Clarify the threat if you feel safe; leave if you don’t,” Lee said. “If you hear, ‘I’m going to get even’ or ‘You’ll be sorry,’ take the comments seriously and report them to the appropriate person. Additional tips:
As part of the separated employee’s exodus following the termination meeting, management should take the following steps to ensure safety while allowing the employee to keep his or her dignity:
“The overall lesson: People commit workplace violence for revenge, justice or control. Don’t give them the excuse they’re looking for,” Lee said.
Any termination process with a high-risk individual should be designed to reach a complete separation, in which there is no opportunity to reinforce a relationship with the company. Any follow-up interactions should be accomplished through designated channels, the company’s agents or resources that the company has arranged, Lee advised.
Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.
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