Being an Employee Advocate and a Manager

May 1, 1998
Firing the violent employee with mental disabilities: Christine, an HR professional at a large company faces this dilemma. An employee, Don, who has mental disabilities, threatens to commit an act of workplace violence. This isn't the first such threat Don has made, according to Don's co-workers, but it's the first such threat that Christine hears about. If she fires Don, she risks the chance he might sue under the Americans With Disabilities Act. If she doesn't fire him, she risks the chance he might hurt employees. What's the best course of action?

Response from Brent Longnecker, an expert witness in HR issues: Depending on the severity of the situation, Christine might not want to fire Don immediately. It would be wise to place him into a performance-appraisal process and into counseling. By giving feedback, the company could show in a court of law that Christine tried to make sure Don was taken care of. To immediately terminate employment can put the HR executive in a bad situation legally.

The problem with this scenario is that this is the first time Christine has heard about the threats, and she's being told about them by other people. You have to be careful in a courtroom because if the behavior hasn't been documented, it's considered hearsay and doesn't hold weight in a court of law. It might be wise to place Don on a paid leave to seek counseling. Unfortunately, this type of situation occurs frequently. It's wise to proceed cautiously.

Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, p. 68.