Do You Know How to Handle a High-Risk Termination?

February 15, 2023  9:00 am

Terminating an employee can be one of the most difficult and unpleasant events for an employer. Terminations may be necessary for a multitude of reasons including company downsizing, poor work performance, or violation of company policy. Regardless of the reason, the separation should be handled in the most professional and ethical manner with precautionary measures being taken to ensure an uneventful departure. But, what if an employee poses a risk to the company based on past behaviors or actions? Do you know how to handle a high-risk termination?

It is not uncommon for an employee to display anger and/or hurt after being terminated from his/her position. As a result, an employer should be mindful of the possibility of an increased risk for retaliation. Retaliation can be carried out in a variety of ways including, sabotage and/or destruction of company property, the use of social media to spread disparaging and derogatory statements, and in extreme cases the use of threats and acts of violence. While the possibility of retaliation can never be predicted or prevented, companies can attempt to minimize the negative impact it can have on business operations. Let’s take a closer look as to how this can be accomplished.

When terminating an employee, a company should always consider the potential security risks involved and plan accordingly. It may be necessary to involve key personnel from various departments including, human resources, legal, security and/or direct supervisor(s). Planning should include, but is not limited to, asking and reviewing the following questions:

• What is the basis for termination?
• Does the employee have a history of disciplinary issues?
• Has the employee ever made verbal threats towards management and/or co-workers?
• Does the employee have a known criminal history?
• Has the employee ever displayed assaultive behavior towards anyone in the workplace?

In addition to evaluating possible risk factors, how the termination is handled is vital in minimizing risk. Preparing for the separation should include the four “W’s” – Who, When, Where and What.

• Who – Company policy may dictate who handles the termination. It may be the responsibility of human resources or the employee’s immediate supervisor. It is important to establish who should be involved and only those individuals should be present for the termination.
• When – Schedule the termination early in the week. This can help prevent the employee from plotting revenge over the weekend. Offer the employee immediate outplacement services to focus his/her attention on the future and discourage retaliation. If it is believed there may be the potential for a hostile situation, be prepared by having security present at the separation or on standby and ready to respond if needed.
• Where – For security reasons, terminations should be held on a first level floor with easy access to a building exit. Ideally, the room where the separation is held should contain a desk, which can serve as a barrier between management and the employee. The employee should always be seated furthest from the door, enabling a quick exit should the situation turn hostile. Following the separation, the employee should be immediately escorted from the building. In situations where the termination is conducted offsite, a neutral location should be chosen where the employee will not feel cornered or attacked. Personal items left in an office or workstation can be gathered and mailed to the employee by management.
• What – An employer needs to ask what access does the employee have to company resources. This includes physical access to corporate offices and/or field offices, as well as company property, such as vehicles, desktop/laptop computers, cellular phones, identification badges, etc. On the day of termination, procedures should be in place as to how the property will be collected. Terminated employees must return all company property immediately upon request. An employer should also be mindful that sometimes personal items take on characteristics of company property. For example, if an employee uses the company data system on a personal device, that access needs to the immediately removed. It is recommended employers have a section in the employee handbook devoted to personal property and how it is treated during employment and after separation. Post-termination should also include notifying building security, if applicable, and the changing of company passwords and locks.

As mentioned earlier, all terminations should be conducted with the utmost professionalism; as this will minimize the potential for retaliation. The payout of final work hours and earned vacation time, as well as other benefits such as personal days and severance packages, need to be conducted in accordance with legal requirements and company policies. Inform the employee he/she may use the company’s grievance procedure for any final work-related complaint(s) and designate a single point of contact within the company. If the employee entered into a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement during the term of employment, a review of such agreement should be conducted at the time of termination.

For most employees, being separated carries with it feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. With a high-risk termination, the feeling may be hostility towards the individual(s) handling the separation or resentment towards the company itself. Being prepared for a high-risk termination is not only essential for the safety of those involved but necessary to protect the overall business operation. Furthermore, as with every personnel decision, careful documentation of the events and actions leading up to and following the termination is strongly recommended.

For more information on handling high-risk terminations, please contact INTEGRITY Security Consulting & Investigations.

Contributing Authors:

Doug Cunningham | Vice President | Operations

Beth Sawinski | Director | Client Relations