The shootings at the Henry Pratt Co. plant in Aurora, Ill. are a tragic reminder of how deadly confrontations in the workplace are all too real.

These types of situations give employers a more heightened awareness about the possibility for violence to occur. But steps can be taken to help lessen the risk, human resources experts say.

First and foremost, any employee whose employment is being terminated should be treated with respect and professional courtesy regardless of the reason for termination. That’s a hallmark of Syndeo’s HR business partners in dealing with personnel matters like this. Clients are advised to adhere to the same guidelines in cases when they are handling terminations on their own.

Next, de-escalate situations whenever possible and don’t be afraid to bring another manager or two in to the proceedings if safety is a concern. Law enforcement should be called if the situation escalates and concerns about safety are heightened.

Don’t try to be a hero.

In Aurora, police say a disgruntled employee who was told he was being fired shot and killed five people and wounded five officers on Feb. 15. Three of the victims were part of the termination meeting and two others were nearby, according to reports. That situation sparked memories of a 2016 mass shooting at Excel Industries Inc. in Hesston. Three people were killed and more than a dozen were injured.

Both cases are reminders workplace violence can happen anywhere.

SHRM CEO offers advice

The aftermath of the Aurora shootings has presented new opportunities for commentary on workplace violence.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is among those offering advice for employers.

In an interview with the Daily Herald, a news organization serving Chicago suburbs, Taylor recommended employers and human resources professionals follow several guidelines in hopes of lessening hostility and improving security when terminating a person’s employment.

  1. Be discreet. Taylor suggests conducting an employee-termination procedure in a private area away from view of other employees. Taylor says these types of meetings should be conducted near a doorway leading outside to lessen the distance the terminated employee has to walk to leave the building. That also reduces the exposure to former co-workers. Being near an exit also allows easier access should law enforcement need to be called in.
  2. Don’t terminate an employee on a Friday. Firing someone during the week gives that person a chance to look for another job right way, Taylor says. If possible, take this action near the end of the day.
  3. Taylor also advocates for the use of progressive discipline when applicable. A termination meeting should not be the first time a person is made aware of an issue. Taylor says surprise terminations don’t go over well. Some instances, however, might warrant an immediate dismissal from the company.

Progressive discipline is a process that begins with a verbal warning for a first offense followed by a written warning for continued behavior and progressing to more severe actions if the problem isn’t corrected. The idea is employment termination should be a last resort.

Progressive discipline is at the heart of Syndeo’s employee relations protocols.

Contact us to see how Syndeo can help your organization implement progressive discipline processes or with HR needs in general.

 About us: As the Heartland’s leading employer services company, Syndeo partners with local business owners to help them minimize risk, improve efficiency and maximize profitability allowing them the freedom to focus on growth and fulfilling their mission. Syndeo fulfills its mission by taking on all of the HR responsibilities for our clients’ workforce, including employee relations, benefits, risk management and payroll.


~Josh Heck, Marketing Manager, Syndeo