This past week, the nation was shocked with yet another senseless act of violence in the workplace. On Monday, a disgruntled former employee, walked into his former employer’s job site and killed 5 of his former co-workers before taking his own life. No one would suggest that the employer could have done something differently to prevent this kind of violence. However, these events underscore the importance of having strong practices and procedures in place to handle events surrounding the employment termination. These steps allow employers do everything they can to deescalate and defuse these, admittedly, difficult situations. In addition, these steps can serve to protect employers, from a legal perspective, in case the former employee later raises claims relating to the termination or the reasons supporting the termination.
Today, let us focus on the actual termination meeting and steps that the employer can take in order to create an environment that defuses tension and is handled with respect and professionalism. When thinking about this meeting, ask yourself – how would you want an employer to fire your mother, favorite uncle, or best friend? Viewing terminations through these practical and empathetic lenses may provide helpful insights. Yes, some of this makes common sense, but as we know emotions often can get the best of anyone. Being thoughtful and intelligent in your approach is key to the success of the meeting. Here are some best practices to consider:
Take home message: We have discussed in previous articles the importance of establishing legitimate and non-discriminatory business reasons which serve as a basis for decisions that affect the terms and conditions of employment. However, the most reasoned and justified bases cannot fix a termination meeting that goes horribly wrong. After all, employees who leave termination meetings feeling like the termination was handled with professionalism and respect, despite feeling the expected levels of anger and/or disappointment, may be less likely to engage in violent acts or call a lawyer to file a complaint. While there is no way to avoid every possible circumstance, using these tips can help the employer handle a difficult situation with civility and respect, allowing the employee to retain a degree of dignity.