HR Can Be Dangerous

HR Can Be Dangerous                                           February 27, 2019   

- by Patti Perkins, Owner - Calyx-Weaver & Associates   

Just two short weeks ago, there was a workplace shooting in Aurora, Ohio, at the Henry Pratt Co., an industrial valve manufacturer.

A 15-year employee was being fired.  He was in an office with the HR Manager, Plant Manager, and an HR intern and possibly others.  As soon as he knew he was being terminated, he pulled out his pistol with the laser site and shot three of the men in the office with him.  He then left the office and shot two more employees, including the union President and a stock room attendant/fork lift operator and wounded six police officers before being killed himself.

I would venture to say that Clayton Parks, the HR Manager did not believe he was taking his life in his hands that morning when he knew he would be terminating the employee, Gary Martin.  He presumably invited the HR intern, Trevor Wehner on his first day of work, in to observe the termination. 

Human Resources can be a very dangerous job.

I once had an office that faced the company parking lot and I sat in full view of anyone coming into the building.  I joked with our Facilities Manager that she should put a target on my window.  That sure doesn’t seem very funny these days when workplace violence is not as rare as it was then. But clearly I considered the possibility that my job could be dangerous.

My heart goes out to those who simply went to work that day, never to come home.  We need to be mindful when conducting employee impacting actions that some of our employees have the capacity to be violent, even deadly.  When we must end someone’s job for cause, a layoff or some other situation, we must take pains to structure and conduct the meetings with care and respect for the employee.  I do not suggest that Mr. Parks did not.  We do not know.  He was just doing his job and probably doing it to the best of his ability.

I do know that any time I either have had these conversations myself or now consult and coach clients when they must carry out necessary but unpleasant employee actions, that we be very strategic with the logistics of the meeting.  As an HR Director, there were times when I asked a Security guard or even the Police to be close by, but unobtrusive.  I took care to position myself in the room where I could exit if needed.  I would have another individual in the room with me.  I spoke softly, directly, clearly and with firmness to the impacted employee.  I did not engage them in a debate or allow them to engage me.  I provided them necessary information but did not speculate or go “off-script”.

Even with precautions, something awful could have happened over the years in these meetings.  It did not, but it could have.

After hearing about this latest workplace shooting, I was reminded yet again:

Human Resources can be a very dangerous job.