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Recognizing the risks of employee reductions.

COMPANY-WIDE STAFF CUTS have become commonplace in today's economic environment, but the experience is in no way routine for the individuals affected. The emotionally charged nature of downsizing makes it essential that security and human resources personnel anticipate the security ramifications. Thiokol Corporation of Brigham City, UT, heads off trouble with a preventive action plan. A key element in the personnel reduction procedure is management's approach to this drastic but sometimes necessary response to economic realities. Management must be candid with employees and communicate the need for the reduction and the time frame during which it will take place. There is no way to sugarcoat a reduction in force (RIF), and hiding it from employees can do nothing but harm the management-employee relationship.

A sound approach to personnel reduction has a significant bearing on security risks and may alleviate many of them. Some of the security concerns related to a RIF are as follows:

* Maintaining confidentiality of listings and reasons for selection may be a problem. A company cannot afford leaks of names or selection data, especially prior to the RIF.

* Rumor control can be difficult. Rumors will fly if facts are not provided in a timely manner.

* There is the possibility of vandalism or violence. This can include sabotage of products, assembly lines, and computers and violence against coworkers and supervisors.

* Theft may increase. Employees may rationalize that since they are getting laid off they have a right to take some property with them. Such a rationale may provide an otherwise good employee a reason to steal.

* Poor work force morale could result. This problem can occur among the casualties of the personnel reduction as well as among those who survive. It can take place before, during, and after the terminations and can affect employees at all levels. Poor morale can result in poor performance of all duties, including security duties, and can lead to mistakes and accidents.

* Anonymous tips to security about employee crime could become more common. The tipsters may believe exposing problem employees will increase their own chances to survive. Some allegations may be false.

* Reports of attempts to gain access to offices, desks, and computer terminals may increase. These may be related to efforts to find the list of employees to be let go.

* Drug or alcohol abuse may increase. Substance abuse could be the result of RIF-related stress.

This list is by no means inclusive. However, it identifies concerns that have an impact on all employees, including management, line employees, clerical personnel, and human resources and security staff.

Planning phase. In the planning phase, the company's key security personnel meet with representatives of the affected business units. These separate but related business units make different products based on similar technology.

Security addresses the potential concerns and threats and stresses that while no evidence exists that a threat will materialize, it cannot rule out that eventuality. Security discusses news accounts of problems that have occurred at other companies, particularly violent incidents that affect the workplace.

Security asks that human resources personnel work with managers and supervisors involved with the force reduction to ensure that any threat, no matter how vague, is reported to security immediately. Security, in turn, follows up with records checks and checks with local law enforcement to see if the employee making the threat has a record of violent behavior.

Security informs human resources personnel that the department has a plan for dealing with violent or potentially violent employees. The plan's specifics are not discussed because that might compromise its effectiveness.

Security cannot guarantee that all violent situations will be avoided; an event could occur that would be more than the security department could handle. If that happens, the company emergency plan is activated to limit damage and casualties. Human resources personnel and those informing employees that they are being laid off know the emergency number for summoning help.

Business unit termination procedures at Thiokol have been reviewed to ensure that they cover pertinent items, including the following:

* recovery of employee badges, company property assigned to employees, company credit cards, and keys

* termination of access to entry control equipment and computers

* signing of patent secrecy and proprietary information agreements

In addition, the procedures should cover industrial security matters, including security debriefings, recovery of classified materials, new safe combinations, completion of open investigations, and proper termination of responsibility for classified automated information systems. Adverse information reports should also be completed, even though the employee is being terminated. These and other points can be found in the Industrial Security Manual.

Security discusses the location of the RIF announcements, the manner in which the notices will be given, and the procedure to be followed immediately after each employee receives notice.

Planning anticipates where the actual outprocessing will take place and who will be on the outprocessing team. At least one security staff member is assigned to the outprocessing team. This individual handles the security debriefings and ensures that other security items are completed and checked off.

Procedures are established for security officers and receptionists to follow at plant egress points. Security makes sure those personnel receive accurate lists of employees to be released so they do not let released employees back into the plant without authorization.

During the planning phase, security addresses how released employees will be transported away from the plant to their homes or to the outplacement services location. The transportation arrangement is critical at Thiokol, because the plant is in a remote location and many employees carpool.

Management believes providing transportation is the least it can do for affected employees, but there is also a security benefit. Released employees do not loiter around outside the plant and stew over what has happened to them.

RIF planning includes a discussion of how the list of affected employees will be protected. It also addressed how and when the security office will obtain the final list of terminated employees so that employees with clearances or access to classified documents or materials can be identified.

After meeting with human resources counterparts, the security staff meets several times to review its roles before, during, and after the RIF. Communication procedures, duress signals and response, and emergency plans are reviewed at this time. Emergency medical technicians and ambulance personnel are included in the discussions, as they may be required to respond to a distressed employee. Plans are coordinated with the corporate external affairs office to determine how to deal with the media if they arrive at the plant.

RIF day. On the designated day, the security staff reports to assigned duty locations. Communications and duress codes are checked. Emergency response officers assume their stations, preferably out of sight of the RIF processing locations. The incident command post is selected and made known to the security staff.

The RIF communication is made personally by the affected employee's manager. In most cases it is done one-on-one. The manager reviews the documents that require the employee's signature or consideration.

The released employee then collects his or her personal effects in a box provided by management. If the employee has more personal items than will fit in the box, the manager arranges to send the items to the employee's home. The manager ensures there is no unauthorized material in the box, secures it with tape, and escorts or directs the employee to the outprocessing center.

At the outprocessing center, the employee receives support and answers to questions, as well as a final paycheck and severance pay. The employee moves through this procedure as quickly as possible and, if transportation is required, boards it and travels to the outplacement location or home.

The entire process takes approximately two hours, and it is difficult for all involved. The affected employees must be treated professionally and compassionately at all times.

Asking to check an employee's packages must be done with finesse. At Thiokol, unless it is clear that an employee is stealing, security will simply ask for questionable material, tag it, and explain that information about the material's disposition can be obtained from his or her manager.

Post RIF. Security and human resources staff are debriefed to see if there were any problems. If problems occurred, possible solutions are formulated for future reductions.

Security follows up on any missed processes by mailing a debriefing form and a stamped return envelope. If an employee made a threat, it is checked out and, if warranted, local law enforcement is notified. In addition, a flyer with the employee's photograph is placed in the reception areas and at gates so that the employee cannot gain admittance.

Security, through proper planning and coordination, can offer management a valuable complement to the overall RIF process. The result is a smooth procedure with few, if any, problems.

Kenneth C. Freimuth, CPP, is manager of security and fire prevention for Thiokol Corporation's Strategic Operations department in Brigham City, UT. He is responsible for Thiokol's Northern Utah Operations. Freimuth is a member of ASIS. The author acknowledges the assistance of his staff and human resources staff for some of the material in this article.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Freimuth, Kenneth C.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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