By PT Staff, published on March 1, 1995 - last reviewed on August 30, 2004
Fire an unstable employee and it's your head that may roll.
Forensic psychologist Ronald Ebert, Ph.D., has heard the story,
time and again, of the employee whose productivity plummets and behavior
becomes unpredictable. The firing is in the offing when the manager
starts to receive death threats by phone.
Or it can be less direct. Ebert consulted on a job where an
employee left a message on a computer screen that read, "I'm going crazy,
I can't stand it anymore, I am going to kill my boss." "It was a
not-too-subtle cry for help," says Ebert.
He attributes the rise of workplace violence, or threats, to the
easy availability of guns and the belt-tightening pervasive in American
If a shaky character has to be fired, his advice is: Have several
people in the room so one person will not be the target of his rage. He
also suggests that managers allow the person to say his peace. Not only
does this give people an opportunity to vent, but it gives the manager a
chance to listen for violent intent.
Ebert also arranged for mental health professionals to be present
during firings to observe and provide services right then and there.
"That gives the employer control in an otherwise powerful
"People do dramatically fall apart and start talking about bringing
AK-47s to work," says Ebert. "But it's a rare organization that wouldn't
respond to such a threat." The correct response: Take them seriously and
call the police.
But workplace violence is uncommon. "It's just that publicity is so
widespread," notes Ebert, "that people's anxieties are