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Apr 14, 2014

Ceridian’s HR nightmare: Does the process for handling terminations need a rethink?

4 stabbed during termination that raises a number of questions for human resources professionals

By Todd Humber

Shockwaves are still rippling through the human resources community in the wake of the stabbing of four workers — three of them apparently HR professionals — at a Ceridian office in Toronto last week.

The April 9 attack happened as the accused, 47-year-old Chuang Li, was being terminated from his job at Ceridian, according to Toronto police.

“He was being fired and I guess then he proceeded to get involved in stabbing some of his bosses and some other employees,” Det. Daniel Darnbrough said. Li is facing three counts of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated assault and four counts of assault with a weapon.

Thankfully, it looks like all of the victims will recover, so that’s one thing we can be grateful for as we keep our colleagues and friends at Ceridian in our thoughts.

In the wake of this attack, the editorial team gathered here at Canadian HR Reporter to discuss how to cover this story. Two questions came immediately to mind for me:

Question 1: Does the process for handling terminations need a rethink?

Question 2: What are the warning signs employers should look for that an individual may become enraged or even violent during the termination meeting?

Liz Bernier, our news editor, is talking to experts to answer those two questions in a story we’re working on for the May 5 issue of Canadian HR Reporter. (One of the key questions surrounding this story — how to return to normal in the wake of a violent workplace incident — was tackled in the April 7 issue in a story we did on the aftermath of a double murder at a Loblaw grocery warehouse in Edmonton. You can read that story here.)

I’m not a fan of engaging in speculation, something you won’t find in our news coverage — but I’ll engage in a little bit of it in this blog. From what details we know to date, it appears as if the termination of Li was following a pretty standard HR script used by countless organizations and professionals.

The worker was separated from his co-workers and called into a meeting. The meeting may have even been held in the HR department, which puts it on neutral ground — always a good move in my books.

There were multiple people present, including HR professionals who are well versed in employee terminations and are more likely to “stick to the script,” so to speak — avoiding inflammatory language, pointing fingers and other antics that can stir tempers.

Of course, we don’t yet know what actually happened in that room — other than things went horribly wrong. Those details will likely come out at trial.

But what do you think? Is the tried-and-true recipe for terminations sufficient? Is the Ceridian incident a one off? Or does the HR profession need to rethink how terminations are handled so this type of event — no matter how rare — is less likely to be repeated?

We don’t have a lot of answers yet. Just a lot of questions and a disturbing reminder that, no matter how prepared you are or how strong a practice might be, that bad things sometimes happen and there is almost nothing you can do to completely eliminate the risk. 

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Not honourable
Wednesday, April 08, 2015 5:32:00 PM
I know this comment is very late vs. when this very unfortunate incident occurred. As a spouse of an ex-Ceridian employee, I can say that the management style there does not reflect that of a company whose core competency is human resource products.
The delicate balance between liability and humanity
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 7:59:00 AM
The recent case at Ceridian is sad and our hearts go out to the victims as well as those who witenssed the violence.

In our increasing world of liability, we have become so afraid to speak the truth. I've witnessed many terminations as an HR professional and I too "follow the script." However, in doing so, I've also seen some normally professional people transform negatively when we cannot provide them with any details around the real reasons for their terminations. To me, it can show a lack of respect and humanity during a time when we ought to be showing the most respect and humanity.

I don't propose to have the answer and as HR Professionals we need to continue to manage that balance between the company's liability and the humane thing to do.
EAPs for every termination would cost big-time
Monday, April 21, 2014 5:06:00 PM
Regarding Hélène's suggestion about consulting EAPs whenever you terminate someone, that sounds like a cash-cow for the EAP industry. I do agree it's a good idea when you have concerns about the specific employee's mental state to begin with.
Sometimes bad things happen to good companies
Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:49:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
I am happy to see that people aren't rushing to judgment on this case until all of the facts are uncovered. I think that's very important, particularly in the case of a company like Ceridian, where one would assume they had "all of their ducks in a row" prior to the termination.

Someone mentioned EAPs. It is quite ironic that this company is a major provider of employee assistance programs. Therefore, one would assume Ceridian would have access to all kinds of expert advice relating to termination of employment and the possible psychological and social consequences of termination.

Because of all of this, I am inclined to think Ceridian conducted all of the proper due diligence surrounding this termination and handled it correctly. Unfortunately, however, bad things do happen to good companies and it is never possible to eliminate ALL of the risks inherent in volatile situations like dificult employee terminations. One can speculate, but it is never certain exactly how someone is going to react in such a situation.
HR Advocacy
Thursday, April 17, 2014 11:57:00 AM by Yolanda
While I agree that being called into HR puts most people in a panic (similar to being called into the principal's office); it should never justify violence. I feel terribly sorry for those people in HR who were doing their jobs. This employee was obviously under a lot of pressure to lash out in that way.

I was always trained as an HR professional; that if handled properly, a termination should never be a surprise for an employee.

It will be interesting to see how the details of this case come out. It appears that Ceridian was conducting this termination properly. There were several people present - hopefully one of them was a representative FOR the employee. Some times sitting across from all of those people against you can make you feel like there was no one on your side. Especially knowing the termination was inevitable... some times an employee just wants to be heard.
We need more information
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 2:35:00 PM by Suzan
It is still early after the event. The courts and investigation may reveal more information.

A violent outburst following a termination or disciplinary action is not normal in any way. Talk about prevention is quite ambitious, but this is not a simple problem.

Perhaps this will bring more awareness about mental health and mental distress affecting the worker and the workplace.
Re: HR not necessarily neutral ground
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 8:39:00 AM by Todd Humber
Andrew, you make a good point. HR is definitely not netural in many people's minds... the point I was trying to make is that they (apparently) separated him from his department to conduct the termination meeting. That's what I meant by neutral ground.
HR not necessarily neutral ground
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 9:46:00 PM by Andrew J. Yu, CHRP
Todd, you wrote "The meeting may have even been held in the HR department, which puts it on neutral ground". That is, unfortunately, an unsubstantiated assumption on your part; we do not know if Mr. Li perceives the HR department as neutral or not. On non-HR Internet message boards, one can easily find many people who passionately insist that HR is anything but "neutral".
EAP's consultation services
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 4:38:00 PM by Hélène Grandmaître
I do think there needs to be a re-think about how terminations are handled. The impact of job loss on an individual is significant, ranging from loss of ability to meet their families' needs, to a personal sense of loss of value, impact on self-esteem and, in the case of someone who may not be well, impact on their health, including their mental health.

I would recommend that EAP be consulted by managers and by HR to consider the possible impact, determine any warning signs of potential reactions in order to put in place any measures that would mitigate risk to all individuals involved. It may be that all of this was done. Often times the EAP is only considered as a resource to be provided for counselling and not as a consultation resource for HR and managers to plan for a difficult situation.
Ceridian's HR Nightmare
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 4:03:00 PM by Colin
Organizations need to start thinking more carefully about security protocols, particularly in protecting those who have to handle this sort of thing.

As an HR professional who has handled many terminations, I've often had that lingering thought in the back of my mind (what happens if this person turns violent?)

Particularly in industrial settings, this is at least a remote possibility.

As for Chris' comment, and couple of counterpoints:

1. HR prevents you from dismissing employees at your own whim likely b/c a) you don't know employment law (as a front-line supervisor, you're usually not expected to), and b) every organization needs those who impose sober-second thought on these kinds of decisions (you are affecting peoples' livelihoods, after all).

2) If you think HR does "more harm than good", why are you reading and commenting on the HR Reporter site? Just a thought...
Not changing my mind
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 9:01:00 AM by Chris
One of the commenters said this incident might make people change their minds about HR.

It doesn't make a difference to me. Obviously, this incident is disturbing and we all wish the best for the victims.

And though, yes, HR does a lot of organizational dirty work, I still think the profession does more harm than good. And here's why. I don't know this person, and Todd said he was careful not to make generalizations. I'll make the same disclaimer.

But I have worked in enough organizations where HR has stepped in and prevented me from terminating an employee I knew was a problem. Not because I didn't like the person (I'm not that shallow), but because they were not doing a good job or just were a bad fit.

This gentleman who stabbed people may very well have had a manager who wanted to get rid of him a long time ago, but whose hands was tied by an HR department who wanted to document everything.

HR still does way too much warm and fuzzy stuff for my liking, and they prevent effective managers from being able to jettison problematic employees. Again, I am not saying that's what happened in this case.
Goes to show how hard HR can be
Monday, April 14, 2014 10:31:00 PM
For all those who say HR handles the "warm and fuzzy" stuff perhaps this will change their minds.
Ceridian’s HR nightmare: Does the process for handling terminations need a rethink?
Monday, April 14, 2014 7:43:00 PM
Not arguing It would have made a difference in the terrible case above, but in unionized workforces a union rep would have been present. This would mean the employee wouldn't be alone and someone experienced would be able to speak for them.