Evaluate Your Risks of Workplace Conflict Before You Fire

Proper planning helps to keep everyone safe during a high-risk termination

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Code of Conduct, Employment Law, Human Resources on February 13th, 2013

Andrew Engeldinger, 36, was having problems in his job at Accent Signage Systems. He had been counseled for performance and tardiness issues and had then received a written reprimand. He had an acrimonious relationship with his supervisor, who had voiced concerns for his own safety to his family. The risks of workplace conflict were there, but nobody acted on them.

On September 27, 2012, after being summoned to the office of the operations director and terminated, Engeldinger pulled out a gun and shot his supervisor, four other co-workers and a UPS delivery man. He then took his own life.

Wake-Up Call to Employers

It was Minnesota’s deadliest workplace shooting and another wake-up call to employers to think carefully about the risks of workplace conflict when terminating employees. If Accent Signage Systems had been monitoring Engeldinger more closely before the incident, the company might have discovered a pattern of behavior that indicated  violent tendencies and severe mental illness, it is alleged in a subsequent wrongful death suit brought by the family of one of the victims.

The wrongful death suit, which names the company and Engeldinger’s estate as defendants, alleges that Accent Signage should have known from Engeldinger’s pattern of behavior that he could hurt or even kill others. The lawsuit accuses the company of negligence when it gave Engeldinger notice of his potential firing in advance and allowed him to go to his vehicle and get a gun. The lawsuit claims the company had no security cameras that would have filmed Engeldinger as he retrieved his weapon, and there was no extra security on hand for his termination meeting.

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The lawsuit says: “a reasonable employer in Accent’s position would have, among other things, provided adequate security on its premises, locked its doors, monitored Engeldinger, and would have attempted to terminate Engeldinger in a safe manner.”

8 Tips for a Safe Termination

Once a manager has identified a potential risk of workplace conflict or violence, he or she should take steps to ensure the safety of everyone in the workplace before the termination takes place.

  1. Choose a secure, but non-threatening, location to conduct the termination meeting.
  2. Have a third party present.
  3. Inform security in advance and have security personnel either present or on standby.
  4. Keep the termination confidential until the meeting.
  5. Sit closest to the door. Never put a volatile employee between you and the exit.
  6. Prepare all paperwork in advance, including final pay, information on benefits, and a number to call for questions or complaints.
  7. Prepare in advance to get the employee off the premises quickly by arranging for someone to collect his or her personal belongings, or by arranging for the employee to collect them after hours, with supervision.
  8. Deactivate the employee’s access to the premises immediately, change passwords and notify building security.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.