High-Risk Terminations: How to Avoid the Worst-Case Scenario

On October 21, 2021, Max Hoskinson, 61, was fired from his job at the Agrex grain elevator in Superior, Nebraska. Several hours after his termination, Hoskinson returned to the job site with a handgun and shot three former co-workers, killing two. A third employee returned fire after retrieving a shotgun from a nearby office. Hoskinson later died at a local hospital.

The investigation into this tragedy is still ongoing and in the coming days and months, we are likely to learn more about the precipitating factors that led up to this attack.

In April of this year another disgruntled, recently terminated employee returned to a FedEx facility in Indianapolis and killed eight coworkers.

Employee terminations are never pleasant. Do you know how to assess risk when planning a termination? Do you know how to manage a high-risk termination?

The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in collaboration with law enforcement, has identified risk factors for acts of workplace violence.

If you are considering termination of a team member displaying one or more of these behaviors, you should begin planning for a high-risk termination:

Substance abuse | Uncharacteristic changes in behavior | Unpredictable mood swings | Paranoia or hypervigilance | Sudden decline in productivity |Hypersensitivity or disproportionate reactions to criticism | Increased/unexplained absenteeism | Resistance to changes at work | Self-victimization (persistent complaining about unfair treatment) | Open disregard for company policies

Questions to Ask When Preparing for a High-Risk Termination:

> Why is it Happening? Why is the employee being terminated? (layoff, education performance, policy, criminal act, etc.)

> How do I Expect Them to React? Are they hostile or volatile after disciplinary action? Are they critical of other employees/bosses?

> What Are They Currently Dealing With? Do they have mental health issues? Have there been behavioral concerns? Are they stressed?

> How Will This Effect the Company? Do they have access to sensitive information?

Have a Game Plan

> Prepare a Script: Consider what-if scenarios and your reactions. It should be factual, brief, and respectful. “Your employment is ending now. Your pay will continue until [date]. We will not contest unemployment. Here are EAP resources. Do you have questions?”

> Consider the Location: A neutral location, away from the workplace and peers, may be best. Avoid remote termination as it can amplify negative feelings.

> Identify participants: As few as possible, but at least two. If the employee has a history of conflict with a specific manager, consider using another individual from the chain of command

> Secure the Space: Have a secure area for bags and backpacks. Do not allow these items into the meeting room. Make an effort to be professional, but not intimidating.

> Pick the Date: Pick a day and time within the employee’s normal working hours. Avoid Fridays so that the employee won’t obsess over the termination over the weekend without the opportunity to vent.

> Plan the Exit: Will you allow the employee to retrieve belongings or designate someone to do it? Do not let the employee return to the workstation unescorted.

> Retrieve Company Property: Make a plan to get any laptop, phone, parking pass, credit card, etc. Link full recovery of items to final paycheck.

> Security: If a risk is identified, place security officers at the scene. Revoke access to all data and access control systems at the time of the meeting.

> After the Meeting: If the employee makes threats during the meeting, end the meeting and escort the employee away from the facility. Notify law enforcement. Monitor social media activity. Maintain a photo and known vehicle record with security.

> Follow Up: Call the employee one or two days after termination to ask if they have questions about the final paycheck and offer resources. This can be used to “take the temperature” of the employee’s state of mind.

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