Terminations & Layoffs: Understanding & Preparing for Ex-Employee Backlash

  • Threat fatigue has become the norm.
  • Planning and coordination are key to job actions.
  • What is your duty of care? Some employees can come back with a vengeance.
  • What key considerations should stakeholders make during the process?

Violence in society and the workplace has become so common that it becomes a blur for many, creating a term that I call “threat fatigue.” Meaning, the bad news happens so frequently, most people tune it out, in essence discounting the concern or threat. For others, it becomes a quiet festering issue that is always on their minds, but rarely talked about. As cops, agents and corporate security professionals know, worst case scenarios do happen — like pandemics — but no one wants to believe the threat is real until they occur.

Mass Violence in My Backyard

My first recollections of mass violence are two tragic events in my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1976, a poor-performing State Department Foreign Service Officer left work, came home to a quiet neighborhood in Bethesda and bludgeoned his entire family to death — mother, wife and sleeping children — with a Sears hammer. He vanished into the night with Leo, his dog, and has never been caught. I would later hunt for this man to no avail.

Just a few years later in 1982, a gunman with a pistol, two rifles and a shotgun drove his car into IBM Headquarters in Bethesda, killing two and injuring eight.1 The shooter was a former salesman at IBM with a grievance against the company. The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad was at the scene for victim support and the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department handled the incident.2 Before I became a counterterrorism special agent, the IBM incident would have seemed surreal, but unfortunately that was the daily norm for me and our small office of investigators working terrorism cases. We lived in a cycle of global violence.

It’s been nearly 40 years since those incidents and many things haven’t changed. The reality is the world is a dangerous place and we live in a violent society. According to a recent study published by Brookings, “when Americans are concerned about their personal security, they buy firearms.”3 Those of you who have been on the front lines of police work, in the protection space, or served on the battlefield in the military know this very well, i.e. there are lots of guns on the streets.

Fast-forward to 2015 when a reporter and her photo-journalist co-worker were shot on live television in Virginia. It was horrific to watch. The gunman turned out to be a former employee of the TV station fired two years before for “disruptive conduct”. The attack also raised serious issues about “the duty of care” and how one protects the media while filming on the streets.

A Proactive Approach to Corporate Security Amidst Terminations and Layoffs

On a positive note, the bulk of terminated employees never cause a problem. However, some individuals can come back with a vengeance, which is why it is so critical to have physical security measures, protective intelligence, and active shooter training programs in place in any workplace.

On a practical level, how do you continuously monitor an employee that was let go two years ago? When does the duty of care for staff end? As most people know, once the employee is “exited” from the company, HR, Legal and Security teams typically move onto the next problem. However, sometimes employees resurface on social media or by sending letters. Others may get more aggressive. Technology can help by enabling continuous watch programs, as can conducting behavioral threat assessments like SIGMA and WAVR-21.

From my own experiences in this field, both good and bad — and trust me, I’ve seen both — I’ve found the best way to mitigate risk related to employees who have been terminated or laid-off is done through a series of coordinated steps, in close concert with HR, Legal and Security teams. IT also plays a critical role when it comes to access control, management of company devices and access to company data.

Planning should be done with all key stakeholders so everyone is on the same sheet of music, down to the nitty gritty such as where exit interviews are conducted and the terms of severance packages. Dignity of the exit should also be considered, such as whether the employee will be allowed to collect their belongings from their work-station as well as when and how IT access will be terminated and badges deactivated. Another aspect is the shock to co-workers left behind — which can be traumatic — so what will the messaging to existing employees be and who will deliver it? Who physically walks the employee out the door, or in the COVID era, which managers should be present on the termination teleconference or Zoom? How does the impersonal action of firing someone over a video call affect the exit? Let’s face it, these are tough conversations to have, now with a pandemic layered on top.

But, from a worst-case scenario, what happens when that employee simply won’t leave the premises, and what is the plan if they return to the premises later? Do you have a response plan to address negative posts about your company on social media platforms or Glassdoor? Have you considered how to respond if an employee shows up at the residence of the people manager or CEO?

In today’s world of never-ending liability and security, what steps have you taken to ensure that your remote workforce and executives are safe?

Looking to assess your level of preparedness for terminations and layoffs? Download our Hostile Termination Preparedness Checklist.


1. 2 killed and 8 wounded in rampage in Maryland
2. I have been a volunteer at the B-CC Rescue Squad since 1975 and served as a police officer with the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department from 1982-1985.
3. Three million more guns: The Spring 2020 spike in firearm sales