HR & Management

These violent delights: Be cautious when firing an employee with a darker side

4 min read

13 July 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

The recruitment process sadly neglects to inform business leaders what types of thoughts go on in candidates' heads. So, it comes as a shock when an employee decides to try poisoning a colleague. When you decide to fire that employee though, take extra precautions.

At the end of June 2018, it was discovered that an employee at a German company had tried to poison a colleague, According to the police, the intended victim had noticed something suspicious on his sandwich. After suggesting potential tampering to his employer, CCTV footage was involved.

The video revealed a colleague spreading a powdery substance over the food. Tests showed it to be high in mercury, cadmium and lead – a combination that would have caused severe organ damage.

Reuters detailed that “further investigation uncovered 21 cases, dating back to 2000, of employees at the same company who had died of heart attacks or cancer shortly before retiring. Experts concluded that heavy metal poisoning could have been the cause of the illnesses that led to those deaths.”

While we’re left wondering how all those cases never raised any red flags, the suspect has decided to avoid answering police questions. No motive has been found.

Handling situations like these will never be easy, especially if the employee isn’t known for such behaviour – and when they fail to give a reason behind their actions. 

We’re quick to trust, automatically assuming everyone is an adult that comprehends morally-good behaviour. That’s not always the case.

Sometimes employees will leak information out of spite. And as we’ve now seen, other times they’ll do something far darker.

Unfortunately, when employees go full-on Sith mode, it does mean taking special precautions. When someone entertains the thought of killing someone, that makes them dangerous. Because most of us are unable to see how far those dark thoughts and possible actions go when they’re confronted.

So be careful in the way you interact with dangerous employees, especially when you fire them. It’s a subject Marc McElhaney, president of Critical Response Associates, has discussed in full.

The thought of being fired might not be taken well and they could lash out. McElhaney advises doing research first. Is this the first time your employee has acted this way?

Maybe life has dealt them horrible cards and you never knew. No matter the answer, don’t excuse the behaviour away – even if their performance is top-notch. Tell them why the behaviour is unacceptable.

Assess what could happen when you let that person go. And when you do let them go, don’t try to reinforce a relationship. 

More importantly, “If you make that employee satisfied by hearing out any problems and make it a win-win by providing some sort of severance, you won’t need a restraining order,” McElhaney added.

Having stringent and consistent policies for firing someone in place will always help you get through the process with more confidence. The employee in question will feel more secure knowing they haven’t been made an exception. 

“You can look to restrict employee behaviour for the good of the business,” explained Guy Guinan, employment partner at Halliwells. “While you don’t want to prevent people venting opinions, it should be through the proper formal channels as defined by the employer. 

Consider using a neutral or outside party to help make a decision on what to do next. Let them leave with as much dignity as possible. Always watch the way you phrase your sentences.