Practice Areas

High-Risk Terminations

September 2012

By: Walter J. Liszka, Esq.

Every termination of an employee is a highly charged emotional situation. No one likes to be told that their livelihood is being impacted and, in these tough economic times, they are being placed in a situation where financial security is at risk. It is even more of a highly-charged atmosphere when a termination of a difficult or potentially violent employee (i.e. high-risk employee) is occurring. A "high-risk employee" may be someone who has a bad temper, is known to favor "threats or intimidation," or is known to be violent. To deal with this type of situation in the best possible atmosphere, some planning is necessary. For a termination of a high-risk employee to be a "safe termination," the situation preceding the termination must be assessed.

Are we acting too quickly in terminating the employee? It must be clearly understood that the timing of a termination always lies wholly and solely with the employer. There are very, very few situations that require an immediate termination. In almost every instance, the passage of time, even a 24 hour time period, may remove and/or change a highly-charged atmosphere. Just as importantly, a "hiatus or waiting period" before doing the actual termination, be it 24 or 48 hours, may be advantageous to the employer in getting the necessary help. Remember, if you have a high-risk potential with an individual employee and you are going into a high-risk event - terminating that employee - it may be in your best interest to slow it down.

It is also necessary in any termination to assemble the right cadre of support employees to deal with the termination. This is even more important in a "high-risk" termination. Is it necessary to involve internal security or outside security (i.e. police)? Is it a good idea to have outside security (police) notified in advance of the possibility of difficulty and to be standing by? Has human resources and/or legal support prepared for this event? Do we need to discuss the needs and concerns of the involved person? Has the "evidence" supporting the termination been gathered, reviewed, and preserved? It is also an important strategy to ascertain whether the involved employee has any concerns. If so, these concerns must be assessed and, if possible, dealt with or addressed prior to the termination.

Simply stated, a difficult or potentially violent employee will make everyone feel uncomfortable. Before proceeding with such a termination, it is a good idea to discuss with support personnel (human resources, legal support, or security) concerns about terminating a high-risk person. If, for example, after comparing individual assessments, you get an uneasy feeling, maybe it is best that you postpone the termination of the involved employee to another time. Do not create circumstances or an event that you cannot control or that can "backfire" on you.

Remember, the most important factor in any termination situation is that it must be done with a sense of dignity and control, both for the terminated employee as well as the employer. Always act in a respectful way so that once the termination is completed, both the involved employee and the representatives of the employer can walk out the door with their heads held high. This is ever so important in a "high-risk" termination. If the involved employee feels or perceives that he/she is being treated disrespectfully or has little hope of dignity, a highly charged or emotional situation will occur.

No one should ever enjoy a termination. When an employee is being terminated, yes, the employee has (or may have) failed to fulfill his/her job responsibilities, but just as probable, the employer may have failed as well. All businesses spend a substantial amount of money on training and acclimating an individual into the workforce. With a termination, all of that is lost. Before it is necessary to fire an employee, every employer must make absolutely certain that everything has been done to make each employee a successful and productive part of the business. Although probably not achievable, the goal of every business should be to terminate no one!