In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser reviews steps that organizations should consider when managing high-risk terminations.
Topics discussed include threat assessment, threat incident risk factors, threat severity levels, understanding what high-risk terminations look like, managing reductions in force, and the steps organizations should take in high-risk termination situations.
Bryghtpath Workplace Violence Prevention Resources
- FREE Masterclass: Four steps to managing threats of workplace violence in your business or school
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- Whitepaper / Special Report: Notable Workplace Violence Incidents
Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast.
This is Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive here at Bryghtpath, and today we’re going to talk about managing high-risk terminations through the lens of thinking about how to prevent a workplace violence incident from occurring during this high-risk termination situation.
It’s one of the most common questions that we get when folks call us, prospective clients or existing clients, and ask about a workplace violence situation.
A lot of the times they’re asking about, how do I deal with this, what feels like this high-risk termination environment? And what do I do in terms of making sure that people are safe? And how do I know that this is actually high risk?
How do I know that there’s actually a challenge here that we may need to think through? And so that’s what I want to talk about on this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, managing high-risk terminations.
So let’s start with this question, what makes a situation high risk? What makes a termination high risk? And I think as you think about this, it’s normal for folks to get a little emotional about what is and isn’t high risk. And we want to remove emotion from this discussion and really think about the facts of this particular individual and their actions and behaviors and what we know about them, what risk factors are present, in order to determine if something is high risk or not.
We start with a couple of basic questions. Are there weapons involved in the incident for which you’re going to terminate them? And the follow-up question is, do they have access to weapons? If they had no weapons involved in the incident you’re using to terminate, do they have access to weapons? Are they a known dangerous individual? Do they have a history of this type of high risk, inappropriate behavior?
Have they been terminated from other workplaces that we’re aware of for this behavior that you’re addressing in the termination?
I think we also want to think about what other risk factors might be present. If you have a threat assessment team, a threat management team, then that team should have evaluated this individual to determine what other risk factors might be present. Are they suicidal?
Have they demonstrated an intent? Have they laid out that there’s a plan for the action they’re going to take, or is their behavior just scary, right? I mean, their behavior, inappropriate commentary has scared other employees. But those are the things we want to think about as we think about the risk factors. What are the things that are contributing to this being a high-risk environment? And then we start to plan for this high-risk termination, and here we’re really thinking about there are one or two individuals that we’re having to terminate as a result of this.
As you start to plan, you are going to want to make sure you have the right people involved, the right trusted team.
If you have a threat assessment team, a threat management team within your workplace violence process already, then you’re going to want to have that team involved in the planning efforts. But really think about the fact that although we want to be really confidential about what’s going on, safety should trump confidentiality here.
Make sure that you have the right people involved in the process, corporate security, law enforcement, human resources, facilities. Are there others that need to be a part of that? As you think about the planning or the termination meeting, I would consider holding the termination meeting in a neutral location that helps lower the anxiety about the meeting.
It can be in a regular conference room, but I would avoid having it in a security office or a human resources office. Think about what a neutral location might be. You may want to have a security professional nearby or involved in the process. You may want to have law enforcement nearby if you believe there’s access to weapons or the weapons could be an issue. You could also have a security professional in the room but dressed in business attire. They could be the witness, so to speak, but they can also be prepared to react if necessary.
In the meeting, if you’re the one driving the termination, you want to be polite and direct, but you also want to be as compassionate as is appropriate in the situation. You want to explain why they are being let go.
Stress the fact that this is not a decision or judgment about them as a person, but we’re addressing the behavior that has been demonstrated by this individual. It’s not that we think they are violent, but their comments were inappropriate for the work environment. You want to make sure that you can make this the final conversation that you really have to have, so have their final paycheck, have information on benefits, have a phone number to call if they have questions, make it clear to them that the only person they’re to have contact with are the folks that are at the other end of that phone number that you’re giving them.
If you’ve made the decision to trespass them, to bar them from the premises using a trespass notice or a similar action, let them know politely and provide them with any written notice that your local jurisdiction might require. You do want to make sure that you can get them off the premises as quickly as possible. You may not want to allow them to say goodbye or to return to their workspace. You can have a manager box of their personal belongings and have them shipped overnight via FedEx or UPS or another service. You can even have a courier to them that very day. You should have security personnel escort them from the building immediately after the meeting. Make sure that any physical or electronic access the employee has is immediately revoked.
And then if appropriate, consider adding other physical security measures for that immediate post-termination time period to make sure that you’re mitigating the risk presented by this individual and helping your team also feel safe in this situation. There’s a lot of pros and cons to having law enforcement involved, and that’s a consideration I want to address. We talked about having them near the space, but you can also have them on-site in the parking lot. You could have them in the building, but not in the vicinity of the conference room. If you’re in that situation, you just want to have… That might be a resource you want to have available particularly if weapons were something that were involved in the situation.
I also want to back up a bit and just talk a couple of considerations about deciding to terminate. Making the decision to terminate should be managed through your HR policies. You definitely want to make sure that you’ve completed your investigation and that your organizational guidelines for how you define the burden of proof for this type of behavior has been met. You should also think about whether keeping the employee on board, even if they’re not coming to work, but you’re paying them basically to be away. In some cases, that might result in a better outcome because you have more control over their actions. You’re able to monitor what’s going on more directly, and you can place organizational leverage on them in an attempt to control their behavior.
That said, individuals who make violent threats directed at others should not be retained in your workplace. So whether you terminate them now or you do more of a gradual let down over time, I would encourage you to take the right approach there. And make sure that you have your threat management plan in place and all of the right steps implemented, and that you’ve worked through other preparation efforts for the termination before you do the termination. Another consideration and this is always controversial because it feels like we’re rewarding bad behavior, but sometimes just doing a little extra can diminish the possibility of the risk of something else happening.
I’ve been involved in a number of these terminations in my career and sometimes just saying, “Hey, look, we’re going to give you 30 days of pay and benefits, but today is your last day, but we’re going to give you this severance payment to help you through the next 30 days and moving forward to another role.” For a lot of folks, that’s enough to give them an extra two weeks of pay or a 30-day payout on top of other sick leave or vacation that they might be owed for them to leave peacefully and not continue in their behavior now that they’ve been removed as an employee of your organization.
So these are some reactions or these are some considerations rather in terms of managing high-risk terminations. When it’s done, when it’s over, then there’s the discussion about, well, how did it go?
How did they react? And how does this impact our plan? Because of course, you should have a threat management plan going into this. How do you monitor their behavior over the next 14 to 30 days? And then you can decide whether or not you want to close this out as threat management or threat assessment team. But you want to continue that plan for a certain period of time so that you can monitor and see is this threat now going away now that you’ve terminated them or does it continue and requiring further steps that you need to take from a threat management standpoint.
If you like to learn more about managing threats, managing high-risk terminations and other types of threats of workplace violence, be sure to check out our Managing Threats Workshop, which is a paid course that takes you through all of the aspects of managing threats in your business, school, or educational environment, and our free masterclass on managing threats, which is a free hour plus masterclass that walks through many of the key steps in understanding, engaging the severity and managing through a threat of workplace violence.
That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. We’ll be back next week with another new episode.