3 Check Points to Minimize the Potential of Workplace Violence During a RIF

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Workplace Violence Prevention


3 Check Points to Minimize the Potential of Workplace Violence During a Reduction-in-Force

 By Carolyn Greco, Expert Council, Firestorm, President, FACET

Workplace violence is an issue that no company, regardless of size, must ignore.  The adage of ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ cannot be overstated on this issue.

Smart business owners and managers now realize that it is not a matter of if the company will be touched by workplace violence at some level, but when.   Here are 3 Check Points to minimize the potential of workplace violence, particularly during a reduction-in-force (RIF).

CHECK POINT #1 in preventing workplace violence:


Consider the following three scenarios, names changed:

~ Brendan Callaway, a Lead Product Test Engineer at a small start-up technology company, was RIF’d individually, not as part of a general reduction.  He had 25 years of experience at startups and well-established high-technology companies, and had been with the current employer for four years – since its inception.  He was asked to leave immediately.


~ Jayne Chin, an oilfield executive with a 22 year tenure, was fired one Friday afternoon by a total stranger. She was told bluntly to “pack up her things and leave ASAP.”  A security officer stood by her desk as she cleaned it out and then escorted her to her car.  Jayne flew into a rage that lasted months.


~ Jim Caruthers was a trusted, 18 year employee of a local bank.  He was scheduled to attend a meeting at a nearby Starbucks and told by four people, the Branch Manager, the HR Manager, and two Regional Sales Managers, one of which had flown in that morning from headquarters, that his services were no longer required.  They told him that he could not return to the bank and to go straight home.  He felt betrayed and humiliated.  He later sued.

Any of these three scenarios could have easily have become violent.  One did.

“Brendan Callaway” is really the Santa Clara company, SiPort, Inc., the tragic scenario of a downsized employee who returned to work that Friday for a meeting with the CEO, VP of Operations and the HR Manager and killed all three. In 2008, when the incident occurred, SiPort was a small company of only 39 employees.
Employees at start-up companies put in very long hours expecting pay-off when the company is sold or IPO’d.  They feel betrayed and taken advantage of when the people they worked so hard with to get the company off the ground release them from the ‘vision.’   The three senior executives felt that they knew the employee well enough to agree to meet.

What could have been in place to prevent this?

Checkpoint 2: 


Planning is critical for an uneventful RIF.    What needs to be in place related to general Workplace Considerations is a written policy on violence in the workplace which includes threat(s) identification, be they direct, veiled, conditional or implausible, appropriate concerns about safety, standards of conduct and fair and consistent discipline; this is mandatory.

Additionally, hiring and pre-employment practices are critical, particularly if an individual has made veiled or conditional threats, or have a history of intimidating co-workers or bizarre behavior.   Are there adequate pre-employment screening procedures and background checks in place?  Even for outsourced, temporary or contract workers, copies of background checks should be obtained well in advance of any staff reduction.



The worst RIF mistake is surprise. If an employee is performing poorly, address it appropriately. Document and discuss poor performance as it arises—not just at the annual review. Warn problem employees if their work is unsatisfactory, and advise what needs to be done and when. If their job is on the line, let them know.

Unfortunately, a common occurrence is the release of employees with good performance appraisals or no warning of a release.  A glowing appraisal followed by release due to performance is not only nonsense, it is the catalyst for anger and rage and puts the company at risk.


Elevate the RIF Process to an Art Form

  • Identify behavioral issues and concern of employees being considered in a reduction in advance.  Carefully plan the location and timing of exit interviews and provide managers with a written script that outlines exactly what to say and do.  Role-play the script – at least three times.  Know who will deliver the message, who should witness delivery of the message, how remaining staff will be told and identify which individuals will react emotionally, and of course, how the extra workload will be distributed.
  • If any concerns exist, provide security and ongoing surveillance as needed.
  • Create a generous severance package and explain it in writing.  The last thing a departing employee wants to do is guess about money and benefits.   In addition to actual severance pay, severance may include medical benefits, continued access to the company Employee Assistance Program (EAP) during the severance period and outplacement assistance.
  • Arrange for an experienced outplacement consultant to be a part of the RIF process at least three weeks prior to the event and provide the best outplacement counseling program that you can afford.   Remember, ex-employees remain a concern to the company until they are re-employed.  Outplacement is designed to minimize corporate responsibility and maximize the employee’s future.

Perform includes Follow Up

Err on the side of caution.  If a RIF’d employee wants to meet afterwards, conduct that meeting via conference call (refer to the tragic ending of SiPort, Inc.) and identify who will do that follow up.  Conduct a targeted Debrief Session and identify what went well, what did not and what improvements can be made for future RIFs.

Identify potential issues, deal with threatening situations and develop clear policies and procedures.  Treat people fairly and with dignity and they will mostly respond in kind.  If they do not, you will be well prepared.

Take the threat of workplace violence seriously.

If you need immediate assistance, please call (800) 321-2219


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