Terminations: Avoiding a Violent Reaction

Terminations and layoffs are the leading causes of workplace violence committed by employees.

Terminating an employee is a difficult and uncomfortable experience. Some common mistakes managers make can turn a bad situation worse. 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. Confronting employees about concerns, whether related to job performance or behaviors, will give the manager 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.

Although most separations go smoothly, any termination can go wrong. It is wise to review your separation practices and conduct a preliminary threat assessment to ensure safety. For high-risk individuals, managers should consider utilizing on-site security or holding the meeting off-site.

The following actions will increase the likelihood of a safe termination:

� Hold the meeting in a safe location, such as in a room near an exit, a room with more than one exit, or a room with a clear path to exits.
� Hold the meeting in a room with windows so observers can see in.
� Make sure the room is clear of potential weapons, including staplers, letter openers and scissors.
� Hold the meeting with two or three people present in addition to the employee, a threat management team of individuals who are trained in the process and knowledgeable about the available resources and protocol.
� Have a response plan ready.

In delivering the message of termination, management should be brief and to the point, providing clear reasoning for the termination. This is not the time for negotiation. Make it clear that the termination decision has been reviewed by top management and the decision is final. Consider using a written script spelling out exactly what to say and what to avoid. The less said the better.

Being respectful of the terminated employee betters the chances that the employee will walk away without engaging in retaliatory behavior. Emphasize respect during the meeting, stating the company's position without using slander, humiliation, or criticism. Do not engage in argument. Allow the employee to save face by acknowledging any strengths and contributions they make recount.

To take the edge off the situation, you may wish to offer the departing employee access to the company employee assistance program or other support and outplacement services. In the case of a reduction in force, consideration should be given to offering severance pay.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with your human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .