When are we done? Closing a Threat Case.

Termination – Is it the finish line or just the start of a marathon?

After the fact, everyone agreed Carl was a bad hire. In retrospect, all the warning signs were there. His employment history showed frequent moves between jobs. The longest he stayed was a 2-year stretch at one company. He was only in other positions for 6 to 8 months before leaving. When asked about this he said things like “They were not using me for the job I was hired for” or “it was only a short project.” His references were minimal and only assessed his technical skills. When interviewed he came off as arrogant and frequently interrupted the hiring manager. A group interview with several members of the team was awkward and he had difficulty connecting with others. He did have impressive technical credentials and would fill a much-needed position. The job had been vacant for several months with no suitable candidates. With no other candidates even close to his experience level, the company decided to take a chance on Carl.

Things began to go off the rails almost immediately. During new employee orientation, Carl appeared to be disinterested and would frequently show up late in the morning and when returning from breaks. Failed to complete his required e-learning despite frequent reminders from his manager. When specifically directed by his manager to complete his Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training Carl openly laughed and said “You were serious about that? I thought I left that woke stuff behind me. That’s why I moved from the People’s Republic of California. OK, if you want to waste time and your money I’ll do it.”

Despite having impressive technical credentials Carl seemed to struggle with his work assignments. He frequently missed deadlines and the work he completed was substandard and required significant rework by other employees. When given performance feedback Carl would become argumentative and belligerent. After one performance counseling session with his manager, Carl returned to his work area and smashed a computer monitor. Carl had several verbal confrontations with other teammates regarding his perceptions of the quality of their work. When he found out that other employees were assigned to redo his work Carl began yelling at his manager and the other employees claiming that they were trying to make him look bad. At one point he began yelling at the manager stating “You can’t do this to me, you don’t know who I am but you’ll find out what I’m capable of.”

The company acted quickly. After the manager reported the outburst to HR Carl was immediately placed on paid leave of absence pending investigation. It was later learned that Carl had been making threatening statements to several other employees as well. Learned that Carl had been falsifying his timecards. The decision was made to terminate Carl. Since Carl had made threats in the workplace, it was decided that he would be terminated on a Zoom call. During the termination call, Carl became very angry and used profanity directing insults at his manager, HR, his coworkers, and the company in general.

Following the call, the HR director looked at the manager and said “that was ugly but I’m glad it is over now.”  What they didn’t realize was that the work the hard work had only just begun.

When can we close a case?

I’m frequently asked by clients working threat cases when are we done? The best answer I can give to this question is it depends.

Terminating a problem employee may solve one set of problems but it may also exacerbate others. If this was a hostile termination and if the termination was based on misconduct or threatening or violent behavior the termination itself may actually fuel a pre-existing grievance. This highlights the importance of post-termination monitoring.

What should we monitor and how long should we monitor it?

The answer to these questions depends on the specific situation but there are some general guidelines to follow.

Public-facing social media for the terminated employee should be monitored for any references to the organization’s employees or management.

Special attention should be paid to potential flashpoint dates. What are flashpoint dates? These are dates that could increase stressors on the terminated employee and reignite a smoldering grievance against the company. Such dates could include the expiration of unemployment benefits, COBRA benefits, EAP benefits. Another example of a flashpoint date could be when the terminated employee’s position is publicly posted. The terminated employee could be triggered by seeing their job posted.

A comprehensive post-termination management plan will acknowledge these potential flashpoint dates and public-facing social media monitoring should be conducted as these dates approach. Any examples of concerning posts should be reported back to the threat management team.

Another potential source of information for post-termination monitoring is trusted third parties. Are there employees that may be contacted by the former employee after the termination? If so are these employees trusted sources of information that can provide a temperature check and report any troubling comments or grievances articulated by the terminated employee?

So, in an attempt to answer the original question when can we close a case? The answer is when that individual no longer poses a reasonable or actionable threat to the organization. This is a matter for the threat management team to determine. We also need to recognize that threat assessment and management is a dynamic process that is subject to change.

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