Employee Terminations – Are they part of your Workplace Violence Emergency Plan?

A workplace violence incident in Aurora, Illinois recently raises the question; “Do you have a written plan for employee terminations in your organization?” Workplace safety experts believe too many employers are not taking proper precautions when it comes to planning and preparing!

The shooting in Aurora resulted in the death of six employees, including the gunman, and injuries to six police officers. Workplace homicides caused by intentional shootings by another person are a major workplace safety concern for employers with 351 homicides in this category reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, with another 47 people stabbed to death by another person in their workplaces.

The shooter in Aurora was an employee who reportedly had been asked to come in to be terminated at the time of the incident. Ever since a workplace violence incident involving an employee of the Connecticut lottery in 1998, the best practice has been to conduct terminations off-siteor to ensure the person does not bring a weapon onto or into the facility.

Having an emergency action plan that addresses employee terminations is “a must,” but also training human resource employees to recognize potential signsthat a colleague could pose a threat is imperative.  Do your employees understand how to interpret body language or how to phrase comments to deescalate a situation? Many employers are ignoring the signs and are slow to believe it will happen to their workplace. In this day and age, every organization needs to have a process in place for employee terminationsto provide a level of protection for anyone involved in the termination process such as those conducting the termination or the supervisors.

Whether or not security personnel are considered part of the termination process should be guided by an employee’s past behavior. If there have been incidents of fighting, expressive outbursts or other hostile attitude, then having security nearby is wise. In the Aurora incident, it had been reported that the employee had been “belligerent” and frequently broke workplace rules.Training employees is one of the most important aspects which should be incorporated into your plan – HR employees especially need to know how to recognize when a person may present a threat to the organization.

Every multi-faceted program requires management buy-into be effective. And in the case of workplace violence program, management will immediately understand liability. So, start by analyzing insurance policies for gaps in coverage. Any active shooter or assailant event could trigger coverage under virtually every policy, including workers compensation. Physical and often emotional injuries will impact every part of your risk management program.

U.S. active shooter scenarios reached an all-time high in 2017 with 30 incidents, up 50% from the previous year, while active shooter fatalities spiked in 2017 to 729, more than three times the nation’s previous high of 214 deaths according to FBI statistics. Forty-two percent of active shooter incidents since the year 2000 have occurred in the workplace.

“While no one can completely prepare for horrific acts of violence, smart workplace strategies can help mitigate threats and better protect workers” commented Brian Hammer, chair of ASSP’s technical report committee who spent 20 years in law enforcement.

There are five key steps in developing any workplace violence plan: 1) determine vulnerabilities; 2) harden the site (security cameras, access control systems, etc.); 3) train staff (tabletop drills, tactical drills and practice sessions); 4) coordinate with local responding agencies (ensures they know the layout of your organization to improve emergency response times); and 5) prepare for post-incident issues (a business continuity plan, crisis-management plan, decision-tree, etc.).

Bring together a safety response team who can help design your site-specific plan. Include a risk and threat assessment to ask yourself questions; 1) how would a shooter gain access to and move around your facility?  2) Should a shooter gain access, what could be done to reduce victims?  3) Do employees know how to run, hide and/or fight if their environment were threatened?

In addition to tabletop and practice exercises, communication is critical. Experience has shown that communication is the quickest area to break down in any emergency situation. Once you have a plan developed, how do you communicate it out to all employees. How do you keep it current and readily on the minds of every employee? It takes work to be prepared but the results will be invaluable. Practice is key, because under stress, humans resort to what they ‘know’. If you practice, then you will know what to do!

If you want guidance to get started, some helpful resources are listed below:

The American Society of Safety Professionals published a technical report to help develop a response to violent incidents. The document, “How to Develop and Implement an Active Shooter/Armed Assailant Plan,” contains recommendations from more than 30 safety experts on how businesses can better protect themselves ahead of such incidents.  The plan is available through ASSP.org and cost $110 to purchase.

ASIS International has also published Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention (WVPI.1), an American Standard which can be purchased through asisonline.org for $117.

And of course, you are welcome to contact Security Engineers for further information.