Inside Disruption Blog

Layoffs and terminations: when hostility or violence is a concern

Bruce Blythe
September 17, 2014

Terminating employees is always difficult. Beyond the compassion for the well-being of the individual, we all have the same concerns when it comes to disrupting a person’s livelihood. People who seemed fine in normal times can become immediately hostile and threatening when they learn they are losing their jobs.


Should the procedures for high-risk terminations be different than the company’s normal processes? What should be done to increase the likelihood that layoff and employment termination meetings remain calm and safe for all concerned? How can you assure the person doesn’t come back seeking some form of vengeance?


Anticipate potentially hostile or violent reactions and plan contingencies in detail. Doing so will give you an assurance that you are prepared when needed. For example:


  1. Plan for a calm and compassionate response if hostilities arise
  2. Know exactly the movements needed for your safe escape
  3. Establish an emergency communication plan and immediate actions for those notified
  4. Have additional managers and security available if assistance is needed


It is uncomfortable to envision dangerous and escalating situations directed toward you. However, those who open their minds just long enough to clearly imagine and prepare for worst case scenarios are those who are most calm and effective. Thinking about what to do after a situation escalates is not optimal. Simply put, there is no rational strategy that says “don’t be prepared.”


Defusing hostile and potentially violent people is possible . . . even probable, if you do the right things. Planning variables such as the place, people involved, what will be said, where you will each sit, and how you will react to various contingencies will increase the likelihood that the unenviable task of difficult termination meetings are managed safely and effectively.


This post originally appeared in the AlliedBarton Blog.

Bruce Blythe


Bruce Blythe is an internationally acclaimed crisis management expert. He is the owner and Executive Chairman of R3 Continuum that provides employers with integrated crisis readiness, crisis response, and employee return-to-work services. They have assisted hundreds of companies worldwide with crisis, workplace violence, and business continuity planning, training and exercising. They also provide consultations worldwide for defusing serious disputes, hostilities and workplace violence threats. On average, they respond onsite to 1300 international workplace crises of all sorts per month. Finally, they work with insurers and large employers in accelerating employee return-to-work for workers’ comp, disability, and non-occupational injury claims throughout North America and Australia.