Last Tuesday (February 19,) police detectives visited Frank Sain at his office at SofTec Solutions in Englewood, Colorado. Sain was hired as the Chief Operating Officer for the technology company in the Fall of 2011.
As reported by the Denver Post, they questioned him about six emails he sent between February 13 and 15, in addition to voicemails left to Colorado State Representative Rhonda Fields. Representative Fields has proposed legislation to limit gun magazine capacities in Colorado. The emails and voicemails were said to be sexually and racially offensive and indicated he was enraged by the proposed legislation.
“Hopefully somebody Gifords both of your asses with a gun….”
per The Denver Post – In an email from Frank Sain to Representative Rhonda Fields
Two days after the police interviewed him (February 21) an unsigned letter was received by Representative Fields that threatened harm to both her and her daughter.
The next day Frank Sain was arrested and this past Monday the arrest was reported in the Denver Post. According to the Denver Post, Sain admits to the emails.
The situation is an important case study for business because it is the type of crisis that every business must be prepared for in today’s social media, politically charged world.
Company Public Image Issues
The obvious issue is public relations. A rank-and-file employee who acts out in a public forum out can damage a company’s reputation, but to have a manager, and in this case, a company executive, who acts out creates an impression that the organization might have been involved, or at least, enabled the behavior of the person.
In addition, an organization’s website typically boasts about its executives and when one of them misbehaves it makes the company look incompetent. It is important for a company to not prejudge an accused employee; however, when the basic allegations are admitted to by the employee the organization must take quick action to divorce itself from the actions of the employee. In this situation, with the allegations reportedly admitted to by the employee, SofTec Solutions quickly responded by removing Frank Sain from their website within 24 hours of the Denver Post story.
One issue is whether or not the organization should speak out publicly regarding the employee. Many companies might choose to not create any more public exposure regarding the situation, but I feel that would be the wrong choice. Both the public and customers/clients of the company will have a negative impression of the company that will be left in everyone’s mind if not addressed. It is important that the company make it clear that the acts and opinions of their executive were not enabled, endorsed, nor condoned by the organization and some type of heartfelt statement should be made with apologies to the appropriate people.¹
Human Resources Issues
Separating an employee is never easy. Separating an employee who has demonstrated rage and flaunts his gun ownership is even harder.
An organization cannot have an executive who makes derogatory sexual and racial statements and threatens to do violent harm to others. Of special concern is that in this situation the person seemed to escalate in his bad behavior after being questioned by law enforcement, signaling the potential of underlying, uncontrolled rage.
If the person can be reasoned with, it would be best to sit down with the employee and discuss the situation. Allowing the person to resign might be appropriate; however, in some cases an organization may have a duty to inform other potential employers of the circumstances of the separation. Making the employee someone else’s problem is not a smart move, especially if the company failed to warn the new employer of potential violent behavior.
The best practice in this situation might be to put the employee on paid leave for a period of time and require he seek counseling to address his behavior issues. There should be an understanding that separation with some type of severance package would occur upon compliance with the counseling requirement.
The organization should discuss the situation with legal counsel that is experienced in employee law as local, state and/or federal laws may dictate what an organization can, must, and can’t do in these types of circumstances. Engaging an expert in crisis management and/or violent employee situations should be part of separation planning.
In House Investigation
Under these types of circumstances an organization should conduct a thorough investigation of the employee’s co-workers, clients, etc. The purpose is to identify the scope of the issue. Did he confide in people who should have informed the company? Are there others who are sympathetic to him and might have behavior issues of their own? Does the company foster extreme political anger and if so, how should it be addressed? Did he act out among customers/clients and, if so, what is the impression they have of the company? Did he have an abusive email style with employees and/or customers.
There are many questions that must be answered if an organization hopes to move out of the crisis. Burying the incident may make everyone feel better, but it may turn out that the problem was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Training, counseling and other remedial efforts for all employees may be required to heal the damage caused by the executive who put the company into the crisis.
¹(UPDATE: Just before publishing this article, the Denver Post announced that SofTec Solutions had suspended Frank Sain and issued a strongly worded statement condemning his behavior.)