A history of violence

A history of violence

Protect yourself when firing a team member who hurts or threatens others.
Jan 01, 2008

Phil Seibert
Nobody looks forward to it, but eventually every boss has to fire someone. And if that someone is a team member who has been violent in the workplace or made threats, there's a risk when you deliver the bad news. Here's how to minimize it.

First, don't postpone the inevitable. Once you've decided to terminate, get right to it. Next, check your state laws for severance requirements. In some states you must pay the employee for accrued leave or vacation time and have his or her final paycheck ready at the time of dismissal.

Prepare for the event by arranging a private place and blocking all interruptions. You may want to have a witness present, preferably someone in a practice leadership role and not just another employee.

It's unwise for the target of the threats to be present at the termination. And if that target is you, the practice's attorney can handle the termination. Faced with a no-nonsense lawyer, most employees will reconsider any ideas of retaliation.

To avoid potential liability issues after the termination, tell the rest of the staff that the employee was terminated for violating hospital policy—nothing more, nothing less.

Dumping a dangerous employee


• Treat the individual with respect and dignity.

• Stay calm. Compose your "speech" ahead of time and choose your words carefully.

• Prepare for problems. If you believe the potential for a violent reaction is high, arrange for additional security.

• Keep the discussion short and focus on hospital policy and the exact violation, not the person's "attitude."

• Say, "We have no choice but to terminate you due to unacceptable behavior." This isn't the time for negotiation. Make the termination final and complete.

• Let the person know you expect him or her to behave in a professional manner. Let the employee vocally express frustrations, but do not tolerate threats.

• Describe in detail the severance arrangements.

• Collect all company property. Change passwords and combinations immediately. Make the break with the team member as clean as possible.


• Conduct the termination if you are the target of the violence or threat. Have the practice attorney or another supervisor or practice leader do it.

• Argue with the employee about the policy or decision.

• Discuss unrelated behavior or allow the employee to redirect the blame.

• Make threats about future actions or engage in "If this happens, then we'll do that" scenarios.

• Discuss how the employee could have kept the job. This often just gives the person another reason to be angry.

• Use threatening body language. Remain seated and face to face with the employee. Often a physical barrier such as a desk between you and the employee will prevent spontaneous violence.

• Allow your emotions to take control. Both anger and sympathy are powerful emotions, and both can cloud judgment and rational thought.

Philip Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to