An HR expert's advice to employers on reducing risk of violence after a firing

  • Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management

    Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management

Updated 2/18/2019 10:19 PM

Violence stemming from employee firings is rare, but bosses can take steps to reduce the likelihood of potentially deadly confrontations like the one that occurred Friday in Aurora, an international human resources expert said.

Employers fire about 55,000 people daily in the U.S. and any kind of violence at those separations is "highly unlikely," said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest organization of human resources professionals.


Even so, the human resource industry's approach to the firing process has changed in this era of mass shootings, Taylor said.

"We didn't think about it at all three decades ago," Taylor said. "We all have had to take notice."

On Friday, an employee of Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora killed five people, including three who were in the room while he was being fired. Six responding police officers were among those injured.

Taylor recommends employers and human resources staffers follow four rules to prevent hostility and improve security when dismissing a worker.

First, be discreet. Instead of firing employees in an open workspace in front of co-workers, Taylor said, take them to a private room -- even if the behavior prompting the dismissal was public.

The best place to fire someone is a private, first-floor room near a doorway leading outside, he said. Proximity to a doorway reduces the distance the former worker must walk to leave the building -- and it reduces exposure to former co-workers, too.

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Staging a firing near an exterior doorway also allows police and paramedics to enter quickly if violence erupts, Taylor said.

Canning an employee in an off-site, public place is a bad idea.

"You can't control the environment at all," Taylor said. "You're now taking your potential problem and putting more people at risk."

If an employer believes a worker about to be fired has a propensity for violence, Taylor suggests asking an off-duty police officer to discretely stand outside the meeting room during the termination. That way, the officer can quickly step in and de-escalate a situation if needed.

Second, avoid firing workers on Fridays -- especially Fridays before extended weekends.

If someone is let go during the week, he or she can start looking for a new job the next day. But losing a job before a weekend "gives them time to brood" and might make people feel more helpless, Taylor said.


Firing an employee at the end of the day is better than at the start, he said.

Third, employers should try to use progressive discipline before sacking a worker, Taylor said.

Start with a verbal warning for a first offense, then a written warning, then more severe actions as needed. A surprise firing "doesn't go over well," Taylor said. "People like to feel like they were given notice."

Briant Kelly, the associate superintendent in Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, said progressive discipline has other advantages.

"Hopefully, the person is making changes to be a better employee," Kelly said.

It also can signal to a worker and a boss that the employment relationship isn't working out before firing is necessary, Kelly said.

Finally, employers should give newly fired workers a severance payment when appropriate. The money can help people adjust to being unemployed and reduce feeling like the world is ending, Taylor said.

However, payments aren't proper in some circumstances, such as dismissals for employee theft or sexual harassment, he said.

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