Transitioning Employees: Managing Crisis and Risk through the Termination Process
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.
On August 24 of this year, a disgruntled former employee returned to his former place of work at a popular Charleston, SC restaurant and, entering through the back-door, opened-fire on the restaurant’s chef, killing the father of two.
He next took horrified patrons hostage until he was apprehended by police some two-hours after the event had begun.
“This was not a terrorist act, this was not a hate crime, this was a case, a tragic case, of a disgruntled individual, I think, with a history of some mental health challenges who took his anger into his own hands.”
-Charleston, SC Mayor Henry Tecklenburg
No organization is too small to have a plan in place. Whether your organization has five employees or five-thousand, the steps and plans you have in place have the same impact; the prevention of loss-of-life. Simply having the discussion of “What would we do if…” will help your team think through the “It will never happen here…” state of mind.
According to the FBI, many corporations and organizations throughout the United States have instituted programs to help prevent violence in the workplace. These efforts can go a long way toward mitigating the threat of such occurrences. Although no extant actuarial methods for predicting workplace violence exist, employees can take certain actions to reduce these incidents.
First, it is critical to understand that workplace violence does not happen at random or “out of the blue.” Rather, perpetrators usually display some behaviors of concern. Thus, awareness of these indicators and the subsequent implementation of an action plan to de-escalate potentially violent situations form essential components of workplace violence prevention.
Behaviors of concern can help workers recognize potential problems with fellow employees. If a coworker begins acting differently, determining the frequency, duration, and intensity of the new, and possibly troubling, behavior can prove helpful. Specific behaviors of concern that should increase vigilance for coworkers and supervisors include sadness, depression, threats, menacing or erratic behavior, aggressive outbursts, references to weaponry, verbal abuse, inability to handle criticism, hypersensitivity to perceived slights, and offensive commentary or jokes referring to violence.
These behaviors—when observed in clusters and coupled with diminished work performance (as manifested by increased tardiness or absences, poor coworker relations, and decreased productivity)—may suggest a heightened violence potential. It must be pointed out, however, that no single behavior is more suggestive of violence than another. All actions must be judged in the proper context and in totality to determine the potential for violence.
The challenge is in that the very behaviors indicating behaviors of concern may lead to the employee’s termination, creating a snowball effect of anger, frustration and targeting of those deemed responsible for the termination.
By example, a Florida location of a global RV awning manufacturer was the target of workplace violence in June of 2017. A former employee of FIAMMA exhibited behaviors of concern years before the June shooting. The shooter attacked a colleague, Carlos Rodriguez, in 2014. It was Rodriguez however, who was released from FIAMMA following the incident, not the employee who committed the attack.
The gunman, 45, was armed with a handgun and a knife when he shot and killed five people before fatally shooting himself on June 5th of this year.
“There is no doubt in my mind that I would’ve been a victim,” Rodriguez said in an interview with a local media outlet. “I even broke down crying, because there was something about this guy that struck me as ‘be careful with this person.”
“I tried to warn them I really wanted to get rid of him. If it had been up to me he’d be gone a long time ago…I feel sad about it, really, my condolences go out to his family and all the ones that were effected. But, at the same time, I wish they would’ve just listened to my concerns.”
Care must be taken when dealing with what can be a highly charged situation. Companies may lack the expertise to handle these on their own and would do well to consult with experienced professionals.
Finally, all incidents are different and must be viewed on their own individual characteristics. Experience has shown that no “one size fits all” strategy exists, but that awareness and preventative planning can help mitigate loss-of-life.
Elevate the Transition Process
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.
If multiple reductions-in-force are planned, arrange for an experienced consultant to be a part of the process at least three weeks prior to the event and provide the best transition counseling program that you can afford. Remember, ex-employees remain a concern to the company until they are re-employed. Transition consulting is designed to assist the terminated employee move on and maximize the employee’s future options.
Err on the side of caution. If a terminated employee wants to meet afterwards, conduct that meeting via conference call 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 like events.
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.
Identifying gaps in your organization Behavioral Risk Plan is the first step in creating a culture of preparedness. Not only believing, but acting on the premise that a crisis can strike your organization is key. React out of knowledge before a crisis strikes, not out of fear after a crisis occurs.
Taking safety measures is the first and foremost concern for protecting against an active shooter. Business owners and managers must also take into account the long-term impact of an incident. In the aftermath of a shooting, these individuals may even find themselves held liable in civil and regulatory actions.
For that reason, active shooter insurance is a wise investment. McGowan Program Administrators and others offer programs that includes primary liability coverage with limits of up to $25 million, plus coverage for property damage, business interruption expenses and post-crisis management. The policy also features a range of services for businesses such as a risk assessment of the insured locations, an action plan seminar and a 24-hour crisis management service. Preparing for the unthinkable is a responsible choice that could keep the employees at your business safe.
Karen Masullo is Chief Intelligence Officer and EVP of Business Intelligence for Firestorm. In addition to serving as Firestorm’s own in-house predictive intelligence advisor, she also serves on the Firestorm Solutions Expert Council and delivers communication and media strategy and policy services for Firestorm clients.