Threats from Former Employees
The first incident report that came in to the agency's newly formed workplace
violence team was from a field office. Two months after an employee retired on
disability retirement, he began threatening his ex-supervisor. He knocked on
his ex-supervisor's apartment door late one evening. He left threatening
statements on the supervisor 's home answering machine, such as
I just wanted to let you know I bought a gun. On one occasion,
a psychiatrist called the supervisor and the agency's security
office and told them that the ex-employee threatened to murder
his ex-supervisor. The psychiatrist said the threat should be taken
seriously especially because he was drinking heavily. A coworker
received an anonymous letter stating, It is not over with [name of
supervisor]. Each time a threat was reported, the agency's
security office would take extra measures to protect the supervisor
while at the workplace and the supervisor would report the
incident to the local police. Each time, the supervisor was
informed that the police were unable to take action on the threats
because they did not rise to a criminal level. The supervisor
spoke with the county magistrate about a restraining order, but
again was told the threats did not rise to the level required to
obtain a restraining order.
The workplace violence team held a conference call with the threatened supervisor,
the director of the office, and the security chief of the field office.
They suggested the following actions. Recommendations for the
- Confirm the whereabouts of the ex-employee and periodically
reconfirm his whereabouts.
- Meet with local police to determine whether the ex-employee's
behavior constitutes a crime in the jurisdiction and whether
other applicable charges (such as stalking or harassment)
might be considered. Ask if the police department has a threat
assessment unit or access to one at the state level. Ask police
about Contacting the U. S. Postal Service for assistance in
tracing the anonymous letter (18 USC 876).
- Meet with the psychiatrist who called the agency and ask him
to send a letter to the chief of police reporting the threats. Also,
inform the psychiatrist about the ex-employee's behavior and
discuss whether or not involuntary hospitalization might be an
option. Attempt to establish an ongoing dialogue with the
psychiatrist and try to get a commitment from him to share
information about the case to the extent allowed by confidentiality.
- Provide periodic updates to the threatened supervisor on the
status of the case, actions taken, and actions being contemplated.
- Provide support and advice to the threatened supervisor,
including telephone numbers and points of Contact for local
telephone company, local law enforcement, and local victim
Recommendations for the
Director of the Field Office:
- Meet with security and police to consider options (and their
ramifications) for encouraging the ex-employee to cease and
desist his threatening activities.
- Provide support to the supervisor by encouraging the supervisor
to utilize the Employee Assistance Program.
Recommendations for the threatened
- Keep detailed notes about each Contact with the ex-employee.
Give copies of all the notes to the police. (They explained to
the supervisor that in all probability, each time he went to the
police, it was treated like a new report, and thus, as individual
incidents, they did not rise to the level of a crime.)
- Contact the phone company to alert them to the situation.
- Tape record all messages left on the answering machine.
- Contact the local office of victim assistance for additional ideas.
Contact with the local police confirmed that each report had been taken as a new case.
When presented with the cumulative evidence, in fact, the ex-employee's behavior
did rise to the level of stalking under state law. The police visited the ex-employee
and warned him that further threats could result in an arrest. At the threatened
supervisor 's request, the county magistrate issued a restraining order prohibiting
personal Contact and any communication. Two months after the restraining
order was issued, the ex-employee was arrested for breaking the restraining order.
The agency security office and the supervisor kept in Contact with the police about
the case to reduce any further risk of violence.
Questions for the Agency Planning Group
- Do you think the agency's approach in this case was adequate protect
- Have you already established liaison with appropriate law enforcement
authorities to ensure that situations such as this get the proper
attention from the beginning?
- What would your agency do if the psychiatrist refused to get involved?
Are there any laws in your state requiring mental health professionals
to protect potential victims when threats have been made?
- How would you continue to monitor the ex-employee's activities after he
is released from jail?
- What would your agency do if the case continued without the ex-employee