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One of the least pleasant tasks a company owner or manager must perform is firing an employee. Even if an employee is prepared for the termination and accepts it calmly, it is not always possible to predict when a fired worker will retaliate with drastic action or even violence. Preparation and precautions can help protect the company and other employees from a vengeful former worker.
Watch for troubling behavioral signs in an employee who is about to be let go. The employee could have a history of complaining about the job and life in general; habitually blame others for his problems; intimidate, bully or verbally abuse co-workers; show bias against people of other races, religions or gender; and exhibit paranoia about others’ motives. Events that may forecast negative reactions from an employee include his response to downsizing, disciplinary action and demotion.
Fired workers may target their immediate superiors for vengeful actions, so the actual termination should be done by someone else, whenever possible. The person conducting the termination meeting could offer a severance package or training assistance, but any such assistance must be performed at a different location. If you are the person doing the firing, compose a script beforehand and be prepared for emotional reactions such as crying, arguments and threats. Be courteous, compassionate and positive but firm, and do not get drawn into arguments. Thank the employee for his service and wish him luck. If the reason for termination involves threats or hostile behavior by the employee, consider firing the employee by telephone with a follow-up in writing. The letter should deal with practical matters, such as final pay, but it should also advise the employee not to return to the site or to communicate with anyone on the staff.
Whenever possible, allow the employee to clean out his workspace at a time when co-workers are not present. You may need to use security or human resources personnel to accompany the fired employee while he clears out his desk and escort him to the exit.
Business organizations of any size are vulnerable to a vengeful ex-employee. Plan ahead for emergencies by establishing a crisis safety strategy. You should have already installed a panic button in the reception area and put emergency phone numbers on speed-dial. If the fired employee represents a serious threat, consider getting a restraining order. Advise the local police department of the potential danger. If feasible, employ professional security services or hire an off-duty police officer to protect the site.
Before the fired employee leaves the office, he must return all keys, access cards and credit cards. Otherwise, locks and codes must be changed and credit cards canceled. Change computer and Internet passwords and cancel the ex-worker's email account.
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.