Part 4 (of 5): Acting Too Hastily (Inadequately Preparing for Critical Events)
Terminating someone's employment is of course never an easy task for any manager. But, there are certain employees who raise special concerns, beyond the ordinary - concerns that this employee will react in an inappropriate, rageful or retaliatory matter - or that the employee may be at risk to him- or herself.
There may be concerns not just about the employee's immediate reaction; there may be fears that this individual may have the means, personality, and motivation to plan and carry out an act of revenge. Indeed, many acts of workplace violence occur months, or even years, after a termination.
Critical Response Associates (CRA) recommends a five-step process before the initiating any type of termination process with a potentially high-risk employee. The first step is to hit the pause button.
Do not rush into any kind of termination. As simple as it sounds, this is probably the most important step.If you act too quickly without considering the consequences and without planning the termination and post-termination process very carefully, then you can quickly reach a point of no return. We end up in an out-of-control situation in which the terminated employee is out of the workplace, but with his or her whereabouts, emotional status and motivations completely unknown. We have many potential options available to us prior to the termination - many of which will be revealed during the assessment process, but our ability to control and assess is significantly reduced once the employee leaves the building.
Consult with your peers if you are not certain that your concerns are warranted. More often than not, our concerns are ambiguous and not yet fully identified. You may even try to convince yourself that you are over-reacting - a part of the denial process. If you are feeling a certain way about an individual, it is quite probable that others have experienced the same. Conferring with your peers will help you break through any potential denial, better identify your concerns, and perhaps obtain validation.
Conduct A Preliminary Assessment. Once you decide that there could be a potential risk, assemble whatever information is available and confer with those personnel who are responsible for making decisions in high-risk situations. At this point, the assessment is a preliminary one, in order to determine what kind of information you currently have and whether you have the resources and capability yet in place to engage in a safe termination. Most likely, you do not yet have the necessary information and resources.
Assemble your team. CRA recommends that a company have a threat management team, who is trained in this basic process and who understands the available resources and protocol. This is a difficult process for a single, even a well trained, individual. Ideally, your threat assessment team should include members of HR, Management, Legal, and/or Security - all dependent upon the organization. It is this team's responsibility to manage this assessment process in order to determine the best and safest course of action, and to call upon whatever resources are available to support that process.
4. Control, Contain And Stabilize
Call a Time Out. First address the immediate safety concerns by controlling and containing the risks as much as possible. In high-risk terminations, we frequently recommend lengthening the process for the above reason, but also so that a more thorough and effective threat assessment can be accomplished, often by a third party consultant. We first may want to find a way to get the person out of the workplace, in a safe and controlled manner, under some kind of monitoring. Obviously, how we approach the individual and initiate this action has to be carefully considered and planned.
Planning is of course not the last step - it occurs at every step of the process. Any planned action should be rehearsed and everyone involved in the planning needs to be satisfied that they have sufficiently considered all of the available evidence, have addressed critical issues and options, and have considered and prepared for the consequences of their decisions.
Some Final Words:
Good management is dependent on good assessment. If an employee is considered at risk and is facing the most adverse employment action possible and will soon be released into the community, you do not want to short cut the risk assessment process. Your ability to make effective decisions and maintain control and safety is directly dependent on how well you have assessed all critical elements of the situation.
Think Long-term. As previously noted, many of the more dramatic incidences of workplace violence have involved employees who have returned many months (even years) after separation, such that we have to consider the long-range implications of our decisions. Through our experience, we have developed ways to establish mechanisms and controls during and after the termination process, which will help to alert us if the ex-employee becomes unstable or retaliatory.
Be fair and respectful. This appears to be simple and perhaps obvious advice, but some of these individuals have engaged in such inappropriate behavior for so long, that there is an understandable reluctance to "reward" them in any way - but this attitude will come at a cost. Termination is our last chance to interact with and influence this particular individual. The chance that a separated employee will walk away and not engage in retaliatory behavior is always increased if they believe that they have been treated in a fair and respectful manner during the termination process, regardless of what may have occurred prior to the termination.
Don't Go It Alone. The task of terminating a potentially violent employee is a relatively rare event for most managers. But when it occurs, it presents a set of challenges and decisions that are complicated and by definition, critical. Few of us have the skills and resources to do this completely by ourselves. Do not hesitate to seek out the support and the resources that are available to you, both within your organization and in the professional community.
Marc McElhaney, Ph.D.
Director, Critical Response Associates