Sometimes a simple question can help solve a complex problem.  I recently attended a meeting about evaluating a company’s culture after employees had raised repeated concerns about safety and security.  As we shook hands around the table and sat down I asked “Who is representing HR?”  A long pause ensued, then someone mercifully asked me, “Why would HR be here?  Isn’t this meeting about our security concerns?” That was, in my opinion, the best way to start a meeting: laptops hadn’t been opened yet but we got right to the root of the problem.

Does your company’s HR group operate in a similar silo? Do other departments like Facilities, Health & Safety or Security hold the primary responsibility for maintaining a “safe and secure workplace?”  Answering “yes” to either of those questions may have a chilling effect on an organization’s efforts to create or enhance a culture of safety and security. The truth is, Human Resources is often the gateway to an organization’s culture.  HR professionals, by the very nature of their work, are privy to much of the information that can help reduce- or increase- risks to a business.  They are the people’s people, the go-to team for: hiring employees, dealing with performance and disciplinary issues, allegations of harassment, threats or violence, disability and health concerns, payroll matters, garnishments, absenteeism (and associated reasons), and let’s not forget employee terminations.  The recent mass shooting at an Aurora, IL company is perhaps the most compelling example I can think of to encourage HR professionals to scrutinize their practices through a risk-based lens.

A question for HR professionals: When you are involved in employee terminations, do you ever use a security guard or other member of a security team to a) stand outside the room or in the area where the termination meeting is taking place, b) sit in the room during the termination meeting, c) walk the terminated employee back to his or her desk to gather belongings, and/or d) walk the terminated employee out of the building with a box of their stuff?  If so, for some it’s  “the way we’ve always done it,” but now try to articulate what those practices actually do (or not) when it comes to reducing wider business risk?  Another perspective: a security presence “standing guard” at terminations can send a very negative message to the workforce.  It could unwittingly position the security team as “the enemy of the people,” tasked with policing rather than protecting them.  It may also  erode employee trust in HR, promoting a perception that the HR staff are afraid of employee interactions. There are other ways that collaborating in advance can help you safely terminate employees; for example, how can you reduce loss of data, proprietary information or evidence?  Violence prevention may be the primary reason for asking someone to stand outside the room…but there are better ways to do that, and accomplish more. Start with a collaborative approach.  Slow down…understand and leverage your available resources…do you have security? IT security? outside support? Then collect and analyze information…is there recent criminal history? are there financial concerns?  Then identify and evaluate your risks…does this employee have access to certain areas or information that, if compromised, could harm people or the business? This all can help you determine the safest way to structure your terminations. Try this methodology and see what works best for your company…because terminations, while never pleasant, don’t have to equate to risky business.