Minimizing the Risk of Workplace Violence During Employee Terminations

By Kathleen M. Bonczyk, MBA, Esq.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), approximately two million American workers experience workplace violence each year.

As if this statistic is not troubling enough, OSHA advises that the actual figure could be much greater. This is because the agency believes that certain episodes of workplace violence may go unreported. [i]

Workplace violence can manifest in a broad spectrum of aggressive conduct such as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide…” [ii]

This author’s research reflects the fact that 36 occupational murders at the hands of co-workers or former employees occurred during the 15 month period preceding May 4, 2016.

A number of these killings involved terminations, including the murder of 40-year-old Jason Yanko on June 23, 2015.

WORKPLACE HOMICIDE VICTIM FOUND HOLDING TERMINATION PAPERWORK.

According to media reports, Yanko was hired in January 2015 as corporate operations manager for Val-Fit, Inc. in Houston, Texas.

The weekend before his murder, Yanko’s wife Michelle and the couple’s three adopted children (ages 10, 11 and 12 at the time) relocated to Houston from Atlanta.

Yanko who by all accounts was a dedicated husband and father was described as being “full of life.” He took off on June 22, 2015 to help his family settle into their new home.

The next day at work Yanko and a warehouse manager conducted a meeting in a conference room with an employee named Rodney Jackson to advise him that his employment was being terminated.

Jackson refused to sign the termination paperwork and left the conference room slamming the door.

Yanko apparently followed Jackson out of the building and observed him go to his vehicle.  Shortly thereafter Jackson confronted Yanko and asked if he could walk back into the building.

Yanko refused to allow him to do so.  Yanko was shot and killed.  He was reportedly found still clutching the termination paperwork in his hands.  [iii]

According to his obituary, Yanko’s bravery “prevented other lives from being lost.” [iv]

RECOMMENATIONS TO PREVENT VIOLENCE DURING INVOLUNTARY TERMINATIONS.

According to OSHA, “in most workplaces where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions.” [v]

Attorney Stuart M. Silverman of Stuart M. Silverman, P.A. whose practice in Boca Raton, Florida is primarily in the field of employment law believes that measures may be taken to reduce the risk of violence from occurring when delivering the bad news to employees that their services are no longer required.

Silverman, who possesses nearly 30 years of experience as an attorney, believes that “Anything that shows suddenness or without warning or belittles or embarrasses the employee” should be avoided at all costs.

As Silverman points out, the objective should never be to further escalate a situation where the employee who is likely already experiencing trauma over the firing also suffers humiliation in front of his or her peer group at work.

These co-workers may be the people who the exiting employee has had a close working and personal association with. It is possible that the witnesses to the termination are the people the soon-to-be ex-employee regards as friends.

In the past, they may have all participated in jovial banter about a sports team or television show around the water cooler, took cigarette and meal breaks together, trusted each other with their secrets and confidences, and socialized with on their days off together.

Indeed – the employee may have spent more of his or her waking hours with colleagues at work than his or her own family members.

Thus, stripping the employee of pride in front of these colleagues/friends accomplishes nothing positive and can give rise to all manner of undesirable and even detrimental consequences.

In light of the foregoing, Silverman explains that suffering a public termination in the middle of the workplace for all to see or one where such words echo out of thin conference or office walls as “Pack up and leave’”(or) “you have 30 minutes to clear your stuff and leave the building” (or) “leave now and we will make arrangements to get your personal items” for all to hear can be extremely traumatic – and even potentially dangerous.

Going into the termination conference with a heavy-handed and aggressive approach could escalate an already challenging situation. It should be regarded as being akin to adding salt to a bleeding wound or throwing gasoline into a fire.

Silverman also states that “having other people or even strangers in the room while the termination is underway could cause added embarrassment to the employee” and, consequently, should be avoided.

If the objective is to minimize the potential of litigation, administrative actions as well as violence, “…companies have to change the attitude of what they say how they say it and who says it on termination,” Silverman adds.

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