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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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Threats from Former Employees

The Incident

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.

Response

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 Security Officer:

  • 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 assistance organizations.

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

Supervisor:

  • 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.

Resolution

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

  1. Do you think the agency's approach in this case was adequate protect the supervisor?

  2. Have you already established liaison with appropriate law enforcement authorities to ensure that situations such as this get the proper attention from the beginning?

  3. 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?

  4. How would you continue to monitor the ex-employee's activities after he is released from jail?

  5. What would your agency do if the case continued without the ex-employee being arrested?