The Twilight Zone: What to do when employees are downright scary

More often than not, employee relations issues center around innocuous misconduct such as tardiness or simply slacking off on the job. But how do you handle it when employee behavior crosses the line and becomes super creepy or even criminal activity? It surprises me how many employers have no idea how to address very serious misconduct in the workplace. They know it’s not ok, but the intense regulatory environment surrounding the employment relationship has obviously made them think that they have to be very careful about how they react. Here are some tips to address scary employees.

  • Call the Police.

    Yep, it’s that simple. If an employee’s behavior becomes criminal activity (or criminal activity is clearly on the horizon), the police have to respond to scary workplace behavior just like any other call. For example, when Incensed Isaac decides to retaliate against Monica Midlevel Manager for his recent write-up (no Isaac, you cannot draw a penis on your coworker’s notepad; you’re lucky you didn’t get fired) by keying an even larger phallus onto the hood of her car, the police should be involved. As a bonus, the police report is a lovely piece of supporting documentation in Isaac’s termination meeting…in the unlikely event that he bothers to return.

  • Immediate Termination is Warranted.

    Employees are surprisingly good at finding new ways to get fired, which means that, despite your best efforts, your employee handbook may not expressly address the misconduct in question. Do not let this muddy the waters. No, your handbook does not explicitly prohibit Tactless Timmy from dressing up as the zombie version of Grieving Grace’s recently deceased father for the company Halloween party, however I recommend picking your battles. I would rather fight Timmy’s weak little wrongful termination argument than wind up defending my decision to keep him in the court of public opinion on social media and maybe even the news. Nope, Timmy’s gotta go.

  • Follow Up with Victims.

    Anytime an employer has to institute disciplinary action, confidentiality concerns arise. Who can you tell? What can you say? This is particularly true when the termination resulted from a report of misconduct by another employee. Can you tell that employee “Thank you!” and give them the skinny on how the investigation played out? I honestly don’t recommend it. Instead, I encourage you to shift your perspective on the whistleblower. You don’t need to provide validation (or feed a need for vengeance). Instead, adopt an empathic approach. What would you need if you had just been through this crazy situation? Well, Monica would like a car without a cartoonish male member on the hood. How about offering to pay Monica’s deductible for the paint job on her car. Grace would like to unsee the zombie version of her father. Perhaps you could offer Grace some employer-sponsored grief counseling? Coworkers are obviously aware when the offender doesn’t return, and that is all the information that they need.

At Human Resources Experience, we help build exceptional workplaces through culture driven human resources initiatives and proactive legal advice. We recommend you call us before things get scary.


Happy Halloween!