Firing someone on a Friday will not make a behavioral problem disappear on a Monday. That’s a crucial principle most companies fail to recognize quickly enough to prevent acts of violence.

You don’t have to look very far for evidence. Take last week, for example. Vester Lee Flanagan murdered two of his former colleagues on live TV.  Stunned by the senseless killing of a respected young journalist and her cameraman, we were once again asking “why?”

The Writing on the Wall

On the day of the shooting, the New York Times published a report chronicling Flanagan’s “turbulent tenure” at WDBJ, the television station in Roanoke, VA, where he and his victims worked. The details included a laundry list of red flag interactions.

In 2012, he had “a heated confrontation” with a reporter. Less than a month later he clashed with a photographer and less than a week after that, there was another dispute between Flanagan and a photographer.  Documents revealed that these and other actions led to Flanagan’s eventual referral to the TV station’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  His behavior, he was told, “resulted in one or more of your co-workers feeling threatened or uncomfortable.”

Unfortunately, the program failed to make an impact and the troubling behavior continued.  The station decided it was best to terminate Flanagan.  According to an internal memorandum recounting the incident, Flanagan responded by saying, “You better call police because I’m going to make a big stink.  This is not right.”  Once again, the station handled the situation appropriately: they called local authorities and police officers physically removed Flanagan from the station.

Handling Terminations with Respect and Dignity

Terminating an employee for inappropriate behaviors is always an unfortunate event. It’s also one we recommend that companies approach with care. The loss of a job is almost always a traumatic event for the individual. It often means the loss of income and financial stability, personal and professional embarrassment, and negative impacts to confidence and self-esteem. Most people figure out how to adjust to these consequences without destroying themselves and others. But some don’t.

5 Best Practices to Consider When Handling Terminations for Cause

Although prevention strategies may not have worked in this tragedy, I have a few thoughts to consider when terminating an employee for inappropriate behaviors in the workplace.  We advise our clients to treat every termination as a security event – and to implement a higher level of care with any termination of an employee due to behaviors of concern.  The following list provides suggestions to consider if you are faced with this type of situation:[1]

  1. Offer a “face-saving” outcome for the employee, including a termination package that permits the employee to move forward in life with dignity and self-respect intact.  Such a package should be considered in the interest of safety, even if not typically offered by the organization, during terminations for cause.
  2. Extend health benefits, including Employee Assistance, to the terminated employee to ensure adequate mental health treatment continues.
  3. Formulate a response to provide to co-workers and to future queries about the former employee from prospective employers.
  4. Consider implementing ongoing security measures following the termination, as well as monitoring any efforts by the employee to maintain contact with the organization or other employees.
  5. Identify existing social systems that could provide insight into the former employee’s behavior including social media monitoring, EAP support, the police, family and friends. [2]

The process should be handled with forethought and sensitivity.  If you have concerns about terminating an employee, are looking to design and develop a best practices termination plan or if you would like to know more about successful early prevention strategies, please reach out to me for more information.

[1] American Society for Industrial Security. Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention. September 2, 2011.

[2] Fein, R. & Vossekuil, B. Protective Intelligence and Threat Assessment Investigations: A Guide for State

and Local Law Enforcement Officials. U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National

Institute of Justice: Washington, D. C. (July 1998).

An active shooter attack is over in five minutes or less. Would your team be prepared?