Take, for example, the following true story. An employer distributed a questionnaire to employees asking their opinions on their jobs, their employer, and their supervisors. To get their employees’ honest opinions, the questionnaire was made anonymous.
While reviewing the completed questionnaires, management discovered that one employee provided the following comment about his supervisor: “After work I’m going to jump her in the parking lot and cut her up. Ha ha!” Although the questionnaire was anonymous, the employee’s distinctive handwriting was immediately recognizable.
Apparently, by including the words “Ha Ha” the employee meant to indicate that the statement was a joke. Nevertheless, the employer could not afford to treat it as one. If the statement was ignored and the employee carried out his threat, the employer could be held liable for disregarding it. The man had to be terminated immediately.
The employee was a large, heavily tatooed young man with pierced eyebrows (proof that call centers will hire anyone who can speak English), and the employer was unwilling to risk the distinct possibility that terminating him would result in a disruptive outburst. Fortunately, the HR manager knew what she was doing. Here are the steps she took to ensure that the termination event went smoothly:
1. Pick the time: To avoid disruption, the employee should be let go at the end of the workday. In this case, the employee was offered overtime pay if he stayed later, which he accepted. When the termination meeting was held, many of the employees (including the threatened supervisor) had already left.
2. Pick the place: The employee was terminated in a conference room close to the exit, which allowed the employee to leave immediately and quietly.
3. Get an escort: Building security personnel were on hand to escort the employee off the premises. If your business doesn’t have security personnel available, get a neutral person to undertake this task.
4. Have a check ready: A final check was ready at the time of termination, which included all unpaid commissions and the overtime pay. Don’t even try to fire a potentially violent employee without having a final check on hand.
5. Gather all personal belongings: During the termination meeting, another employee cleared out the terminated employee’s workstation and his personal belongings were waiting for him outside the door. If necessary, make arrangements for the employee to return to the premises with an escort at a time that is comfortable for him or her in order to retrieve personal belongings.
In addition to the tips outlined above, in cases where an employee has threatened someone else, be certain to inform that person, and let her decide whether the situation warrants calling the police.
Regardless of the reason for terminating an employee, when doing so be certain collect all items in his or her possession that may pose security risks, such as keys, access cards, computer passwords, thumb drives, and confidential information.
The bottom line is this: Careful planning in advance can minimize the potential for business disruptions when terminating an employee.