In light of the horrific workplace shootings in Connecticut earlier this month, I’ve heard people wonder about various steps an employer can take in anticipation of a termination meeting. One question raised is whether it is ever appropriate to have the police nearby or available during a termination meeting. Or, alternatively, can you have security escort the fired employee from the premises.
Interestingly enough, the Connecticut Supreme Court has chimed in on this subject in some cases before.
In 1997, the Court in Parsons v. United Technologies Corp., held that "it is not patently unreasonable for an employer to remove a discharged employee from its premises under a security escort." In so ruling, the court rejected a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim by the employee that the termination was so unreasonable as to warrant a claim for damages.
Similarly, in 2000, the Court in Appleton v. Board of Education, found that being escorted out of the building by police (after being called by the employer) was also not enough to raise a claim against the employer.
Both of those cases cite a notable District Court case out of South Carolina, Toth v. Square D. Co., which also rejected a claim by the employees for "outrage" when the employer escorted the terminated employee out of the building in front of his peers.
That’s not to say that termination meetings are exempt from possible claims. The Connecticut Supreme Court in 2002 (Perodeau v. Hartford) explicitly said that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims in the workplace can still arise out of a termination meeting. Thus, if the meeting is held in such a way as to be deemed to be "outrageous", it could subject the employer to liability. But it is rate that a fired employee can actually make a legitimate claim.
What are the lessons to take away from these cases?
- First, don’t overreact. Most cases do not warrant having security on the premises.
- But, in some rare circumstances, having a police officer present on the premises during a termination meeting may be warranted. (Most police departments will offer to have an officer sit in the parking lot if asked by the employer.)
- If the employer is truly concerned, it may also be allowable to have a security officer or even police nearby or outside the room ready to escort the employee out immediately upon termination.
These situations require a deft touch and particularized legal advice to ensure that the meetings don’t turn into a circus.