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How to Protect the Workplace from a Disgruntled Employee

Terminating an employee is one of the hardest parts of any job for everyone involved. Some employees have extreme reactions, making the problem even more difficult. It’s essential to know how to respond to an employee who makes threats during or after the termination process. These situations should always be handled with great care, and there are several steps you can take to make the process easier on you and on the employees you protect.

Take Ex-Employee Threats Seriously

It’s easy to make the assumption based on an employee’s history or personality that they won’t follow through with a threat. You may have known someone as easygoing or mild-tempered and think that their threats are empty. However, no matter what your history with the employee, you should take threats seriously.

Studies show that tenured employees who have done relatively well and spent many years at a company may be more of a threat than new employees with similar track records, according to Loss Prevention Magazine. You may think that because you or many others have personal relationships with the terminated employee, they won’t follow through with threats or lash out during the termination process.

Tenured employees who believe they have served the company well are more likely to perceive termination as a personal slight rather than a sometimes-necessary part of the business. And mild-tempered employees may be hiding emotional volatility or strong feelings about a dismissal that you don’t perceive. Always take employee threats seriously and treat them as if they were your highest priority.

Treat Terminated Employees with Dignity

It's essential to make the termination process as official and dignified as possible for the employee. Don’t beat around the bush or lead up to the termination itself, and leave no doubt about what is happening. It’s best to bring a witness to avoid he-said-she-said situations should objections arise, and even security personnel if you have concerns about how the employee will react during the process.

It’s best that the termination not be conducted by an immediate supervisor if possible, as they are typically most at risk for being the target of violence during or after the layoff. Instead, go one or more levels above that person being fired and have a higher manager lead the termination—either by him or herself or with the immediate supervisor present. This approach reduces the blame placed on the immediate supervisor and can diffuse situations where the immediate supervisor may be at risk.

Don’t make the termination itself a public affair, and allow the employee to collect their belongings after work or during a time when others won’t be around. It’s wise to have them escorted by security if you think they may pose a threat to people or property, but don’t make them gather their things in front of coworkers.

If possible, offer services to the employee, such as employment assistance or job performance training as resources to help them, according to Chron. Always make sure these are conducted off-site to avoid the risk of workplace violence. Doing so can help the employee move on to other opportunities and reduce resentment felt against their former place of employment.

Remove All Access to the Building and Systems

Even if the terminated employee has worked for or with you for quite some time, you should still revoke any keys, badges, access codes, and deactivate system logins. You may think that this isn’t necessary or isn’t a priority, especially if you have felt that you previously could trust the employee, but leaving those access points opens you to many risks.

Remember that violent threats or acts can come even from employees that you wouldn’t expect to be aggressive. Accordingly, make sure that they don’t have any access to the building and don’t have access to logins that could compromise company information or credibility. This limiting of access points includes email accounts, server passwords, and any internal or external systems the employee used. If necessary, change the locks and access codes in your building or sensitive areas if the employee had knowledge of them or may have kept a key.

Communicate the Termination to Other Employees

It’s imperative to be discreet and diplomatic about the process of informing other employees that an employee has been terminated, but it’s a necessary part of the process, especially if you believe that an employee poses a risk. Employees should be aware that the employee is terminated and should be informed to not let that employee into the building.

If the terminated employee has shown threatening behavior, you may want to go so far as to ask employees to call security or the authorities if they see the employee on the premises, and inform any security personnel that the employee is to be immediately removed if they try to enter.

As you inform employees of the termination, be very careful not to share any details of the circumstances or the dismissal itself. It’s possible that the terminated employee still speaks to friends or coworkers, who may be reporting your actions to them if your conduct isn’t professional, according to Inc. Even if you think a sordid detail is told in confidence, it could get passed on to the terminated employee and trigger a violent reaction.

Don’t Engage with Employee Threats Publicly

If an employee takes to public forums such as the internet to slander you or your business, keep in mind that publicly reacting will only make the problem worse in many ways. At the very least, by getting involved in public, you set yourself up for the high risk of making yourself or your company look worse because of your reactions. In a worst-case scenario, you may be feeding a violent urge that will escalate into real-world violence.

According to Adecco USA, if you strongly feel that you need to respond to the employee, do so through private channels. Reaching out by phone is the best option to see if you can talk through their negative feelings. They may merely be venting frustration, and the situation will be diffused by direct contact and consequences for their actions. If you’re not comfortable making the call, have a close coworker or friend call them and try to talk them down. Focus on their feelings and not on your desire to have the negative comments or reviews removed from your public profile.

If all else fails, businesses in the private sector have the right to take legal action. Sending a Cease and Desist order may scare the employee into stepping down, or filing a suit may hammer home the real consequences of their situation. If an employee is known to be volatile, do so carefully and consider submitting an injunction legally to discourage them from coming to your business.

Employ Security Personnel and Systems

The most significant factor to discourage and prevent workplace violence situations is the presence of security measures in your building. Employees who know that they are under surveillance or in the presence of guards may be less likely to attempt violence.

Security guards, whether armed or unarmed, can be stationed at the main entrances to your building, ideally with a checkpoint that allows them to stop visitors or unauthorized personnel before access. They can also patrol the building and the parking lot on occasion if you have the manpower, to establish their presence and make it known that they are nearby.

Visible cameras may discourage impromptu violence, as a perpetrator may not want witnesses to the violent behavior. It’s a good idea to conduct any concerning terminations in an area with visible cameras. They also provide an invaluable tool for the authorities in the case that a workplace violence event takes place.

Having badge checkpoints on the exterior and in certain high-risk interior areas will prevent properly terminated employees from accessing the building to perpetrate workplace violence. If workplace violence is a recurring problem, consider installing these checkpoints to improve the overall security of your building and prevent any unauthorized personnel from entering.

Contact the Authorities

If you strongly believe that a terminated employee is going to try to make an aggressive confrontation against your business, which could include evidence such as written or recorded threats, immediately contact the authorities. If a terminated employee enters or is attempting to enter your business, and you believe that they are armed with the intent to commit workplace violence, you should also immediately contact the authorities. Workplace violence is a real threat in this day and age, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Conclusion

It’s challenging to deal with threats of violence, especially if they are coming from someone you previously trusted. However, take all threats seriously and don’t hesitate to act to protect your business and your employees if a terminated employee becomes violent or threatens violence.

While it’s difficult to predict and prevent some workplace violence events, the presence of security personnel and other security measures is your most significant deterrent to these events and, in the face of threats, can reassure your existing staff that they will be protected.