Death threats from sacked workers? Here’s the cure

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

Our HR manager received a small package with a bullet inside. Clearly, it’s a death threat from a disgruntled worker who lost his job. But how do we identify the culprit given that HR has dismissed around 18 workers for various serious offenses the past eight months? What’s your advice? — Terrified

A cluster of small boys without entrance money was milling around the gate to a football stadium. An old man with a voice resonating with moneyed authority said to the ticket-taker: “Let these kids in and tell me how many they are.” The boys filed in and scampered delightedly inside the stadium.

As the last one entered, the ticket-taker said to the old man: “Thirty-four.” The man nodded: “Right you are,” as he hurried back anonymously into the crowd outside the gate, never to be seen again.

It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. That’s how people with criminal minds ensure they don’t get caught. If that happens, you simply shrug it off and learn from that sad experience. Otherwise, it’s difficult if not pointless, even if you have only 18 suspects who were dismissed by your organization.

Forewarned is forearmed. No matter what, take it seriously and report the matter to your management, so they’ll know the severity of your situation. We can’t do much at this point except to be proactive in everything that you’ll be doing in the human resources department, now and in the future.

Here are some practical and streetwise tips to avoid death threats from disgruntled employees:

1. Have a clear-cut employee discipline policy. It must be in writing and accessible anytime via an online system. Be sure that it contains the definition of offenses, the applicable penalties, and procedures to be observed in case of a violation.

2. Issue constant reminders. There’s no such thing as over-communication. If the workers are regularly informed about the policy, the better for them to understand the rationale and the process behind it.

3. Be fair, impartial, and objective with erring workers. Presume that a worker is not guilty, until the evidence shows otherwise. Extend due process to the culprit in both the substantive (penalties) and procedural (a chance to explain) aspects.

4. Act like a public defender, whatever it takes. “Be an employee champion” says Oliver Requilman, vice-president for HR at St. Luke’s Medical Center. “Workers when counselled and given importance will leave the company less disgruntled.”

5. Exhaust all administrative remedies. If management has decided to dismiss a worker, give him all possible legal options, including the offer to bring the matter to a voluntary arbitration, instead of resorting to an expensive, protracted court case.

6. Let the “convicted” employee save face. Allow him to write a resignation letter on the spot. Keep everything hush-hush, as if nothing happened. It’s more economical, practical and less stressful for the worker and the organization.

7. Offer a minimal amount to sweeten the firing. It helps soften the impact of the dismissal and maintains HR’s active role as an “employee champion,” as per management guru Dave Ulrich’s prescription.

8. Seek the involvement of line managers in the process. Distribute the heat. Discipline is not a monopoly of HR people. In fact, employee discipline is a prime responsibility of line executives, and not HR which is limited to an advisory function.

9. Transfer the HR manager to another work area. The seat of HR is a “hot stove.” The longer that an HR manager is required to perform his task as an administrator of the company’s “code of conduct,” the more stressful it becomes for him.

10. Report the matter to police authorities. HR or its representatives must not take any death threats lightly. Still, be cautious. It pays to be vigilant. Heed the advice of your security and safety department, for whatever it is worth.

Employee discipline is a bit like the common cold. You can’t prevent it from taking its natural course, but there are measures your organization can take to manage, if not control instances of worker retaliation against HR and the organization. It is certainly necessary for you to be reasonably at peace with all types of workers.

Some culprits will occasionally attempt to silence HR, and if they’re allowed to succeed, then like the common cold, the unsavory threat could affect everyone in management. It’s a difficult proposition. But there’s no other way to address these incidents but to take precautionary measures.

As with many other things, prevention is critical when it comes to employee discipline.

ELBONOMICS: Suffer the pain of a threat, rather than suffer the pain of death.

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Rey Elbo is facilitating a one-day workshop on “Value Stream Mapping for Busy People” on June 28, 2018 at Dusit Thani Hotel Makati. For details, contact Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or 0915-406-3039 or e-mail