At some point in our careers, those of us working in a protective capacity will likely receive a call to provide support for an individual or business during a “Hostile Termination”. For many, the immediate thought after receiving a Hostile Termination call is to think of how to best escort the potentially violent individual from the premises. But in reality, dealing with Hostile Terminations should begin well before a disgruntled employee is let go, and will continue long after the fact.
The list of requirements for a security specialist in these scenarios can be quite long; working with HR and Management to implement workplace behavior standards, developing a Threat Assessment team and protocols, creating Termination Procedures, and assessing facility security and existing protocols can ensure that they will be well prepared should the possibility of a Hostile Termination arise.
DEFINING WORKPLACE AGGRESSION
No discussion about potentially violent or destructive employees can proceed without first attempting to understand the phenomenon we refer to as “workplace aggression”. Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) encompasses a range of actions – including workplace aggression – and is defined as “any act of aggression, physical assault, threatening or coercive behavior that causes physical or emotional harm in a work setting. This definition is a good starting point, but the security specialist must also be aware of several facts pertaining to CWB and workplace violence in particular.
To being with, the best predictor of future violence by an individual is a past history of violence. The more prior violent acts that an individual has committed, the more accurate the prediction of violence will be. In addition, many threats and acts of violence can be controlled if anticipated and addressed. To that end, the National Institute of Justice lists four fundamental principles that underlie threat assessment investigation and management:
- Violence is a process, as well as an act. Violent behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Careful analysis of violent incidents shows that violent acts often are the culmination of long developing, identifiable trails of problems, conflicts, disputes and failures.
- Violence is the product of an interaction among three factors 1) The individual who takes violent action 2) Stimulus or triggering conditions that lead the subject to see violence as an option, “way out”, or solutions to problems or life situation 3) A setting that facilitates or permits the violence, or at least does not stop it from occurring.
- A key to investigation and resolution of threat assessment cases is identification of the subject’s “attack-related” behaviors. Perpetrators of targeted acts of violence engage in discrete behaviors that precede and are linked to their attacks; they consider, plan, and prepare before engaging in violent actions.
- Threatening situations are more likely to be successfully investigated and managed if other agencies and systems – both within and outside law enforcement or security organizations – are recognized and used to help solve problems presented by a given case. Examples of such systems are those employed by prosecutors; courts; probation, corrections, social service, and mental health agencies; employee assistance programs; victim’s assistance programs; and community groups
How does one begin to confront these potential violent and/or unstable individuals? The answer lies in setting limits on the behaviors before they take place.
One of the first steps in addressing possible workplace violence issues – depending on the size of the company – is to have Human Resources, an Office Manager or Security Supervisor set company wide standards for acceptable workplace behavior. These standards let employees know how they are expected to (or expected not to) behave. This sets a basic benchmark against which employee behavior can be measured, should a complaint be received. It also sets a legal basis for a company to take action in the future if need be.
The best violence prevention program in the world is rendered instantly ineffective if no one is willing to report violent or threatening behavior. Your company’s employees should be informed – via email, employee bulletins, or other means – how to file a complaint or a concern, and in turn have this reporting responded to in a prompt and confidential manner. The knowledge that their reports are indeed being investigated and that their concerns are being addressed can reassure employees that they are being taken seriously.
INVESTIGATION, THREAT MANAGEMENT, AND THREAT ASSESSMENT
Threat Assessment has two parts: an evaluation of the threat itself and an evaluation of the potential aggressor. Together, these evaluations can help lead to an informed judgment on whether someone who has made a threat is likely to carry it out – a determination that has been described as “differentiating when someone is making a threat versus posing a threat.” When a complaint of threatening or hostile behavior is received, a timely investigation strategy should be implemented to determine the veracity of the potentially violent behavior and what actions should be initiated to counter it.
If the time and resources are available, the development of a Threat Management Team is of paramount importance. Security should work hand in hand with Legal, Human Resources, Management, and Law Enforcement to develop an action plan; including investigation, documentation, threat management, and threat assessment.
While the Threat Management Team can work on investigations and paperwork, it is important to note that typically, “…threat assessments will be conducted by a psychologist or psychiatrist specifically trained to evaluate a potential risk of violence” This will guarantee that a legally recognized individual is reaching the proper conclusions regarding the employee in question.
Should an investigation get under way, information should be gathered from multiple sources:
- Personal interviews with subject
- Material created or possessed by the subject – journals, letters, email, etc.
- Persons who know or have known the subject, including family, friends, and coworkers.
- Archival records – Police, court, mental, and social service records 
The decision to interview a subject should be made based on the case facts and any recommendations from the professional conducting the threat assessment.
Interviews not only allow the subject to tell their side of the story and help gather corroborating information, but alert the subject that their behavior has been noticed. This acknowledgement can encourage the subject to change the direction or intensity of their interest. However it is important to note that an interview may increase the subject’s risk of dangerous behavior. In these cases, it is imperative for the investigators, Threat Management team, and Threat Assessment personnel to consider additional counter measures to protect the intended target(s). This can include increased security, surveillance, or Law Enforcement notification.
Temporary suspension of the employee should also be considered, especially when the threats are specific in nature (e.g. “I’m going to come back and shoot up the place”). Regardless of the subject’s employment status, managers must understand that in some cases threat assessments should be completed before disciplinary action is taken. Termination in the heat of the moment “…may be exactly the wrong thing to do; removing the potentially dangerous person from observation and possibly bringing on a violent act instead of preventing one.” 
Should the Threat Assessment conclude that the subject does indeed present a danger to themselves or others, swift and decisive action by managements required. First off, employers must remember there is no legal requirement to terminate an employee in person. This obviously removes the direct, immediate threat of a terminated employee harming those involved in the termination or retaliating against those co-workers who may be present. There is also the option of generating a restraining order, though this decision should be made in consultation with the Threat Assessor.
If the decision is made to conduct a termination in person, the Threat Management team should act to make it as thoughtful, respectful, and safe as possible. Terminations should take place in the early to late afternoon and in the middle of the week, and in a location (conference room, meeting room, or unoccupied office) which will not result in the employee being paraded through the work site. The meeting room should be reserved in advance to ensure no interruptions or traffic flow.
This ensures several factors:
- Fewer people will be present should the employee become violent
- Less attention turned towards the employee by his co-workers
- Less embarrassment for the employee as they are lead to their desk/outside
The termination itself should last a pre-determined amount of time (5-15 minutes) and all basic information and paperwork for the employee should be prepared in advance.
Only security staffers with hostile termination experience should be at the termination meeting, remaining outside of the room unless it is decided that their presence is necessary. Notification of Law Enforcement for a potentially violent termination is highly recommended. Officers can be placed on the perimeter of the building or within the building itself to provide a visual deterrent.
Once the termination is completed, the employee should be allowed to return to their desk and gather their belongings. Security should not touch or gather the employee’s belongings and should not rush or hover around the employee unless there is a perceived risk. The employee’s keys, cards, and any other work related materials should be gathered from them.
Depending on the situation, the employee may be escorted from the premises or allowed to leave of their own accord. However, they must be given a firm time of departure and accompanied at all times while within the building. It is also important to note that the security specialist’s role at this point is to escort and observe – NOT to answer any work or termination related questions. The employee may be referred back to HR or informed of how to file a grievance, but NO information beyond that which was given in the meeting should be offered.
Once an employee has been let go, the job of the security specialist enters another phase. Safeguards must immediately be put into place to prevent any possible acts of retribution against management or co-workers. To begin with, the company’s employees – especially those with a connection to any threat – should be notified of the termination. This will eliminate any guessing or speculation as to the removal of the employee.
Target hardening in the case of a potentially violent individual can be implemented in the form of increased security (both inside and outside of the building) and requested police patrols. The former employee’s passwords and access codes should immediately be revoked and, if possible, any locks to which they had key access should be changed. In addition, safety measures to alter access to workspaces, networks, and equipment should be reviewed, updated, or implemented.
The Threat Management team should also re-convene to examine their response to the initial complaint, review the investigation process, and scrutinize the hostile termination itself. Any and all perceived gaps in the process should be quickly remedied, and suggestions for improvement discussed and undertaken. Efforts should also be made to monitor any future contact by the former employee.
Receiving the call for a Hostile Termination is the tip of a fairly large iceberg. Security professionals should make every attempt to gather as much information as possible prior to their involvement in order to ensure a smooth and legal process. From initial complaint through procedural review, the more integrated with the Threat Management team a security staffer is, the more likely they will achieve a safe resolution to a potentially violent situation
By Miguel DeCosta