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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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Frightening Behavior

The Incident

A supervisor Contacts the Employee Relations Office because one of his employees is making the other employees in the office uncomfortable. He said the employee does not seem to have engaged in any actionable misconduct but, because of the agency's new workplace violence policy, and the workplace violence training he had just received, he thought he should at least mention what was going on. The employee was recently divorced and had been going through a difficult time for over two years and had made it clear that he was having financial problems which were causing him to be stressed out. He was irritable and aggressive in his speech much of the time. He would routinely talk about the number of guns he owned, not in the same sentence, but in the same general conversation in which he would mention that someone else was causing all of his problems.

Response

At the first meeting with the supervisor, the Employee Relations specialist and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor suggested that, since this was a long-running situation rather than an immediate crisis, the supervisor would have time to do some fact-finding. They gave him several suggestions on how to do this while safeguarding the privacy of the employee (for example, request a confidential conversation with previous supervisors, go back to coworkers who registered complaints for more information, and, if he was not already familiar with his personnel records, pull his file to see if there are any previous adverse actions in it). Two days later they had another meeting to discuss the case and strategize a plan of action.

The Supervisor's initial fact-finding showed that the employee's coworkers attributed his aggressive behavior to the difficult divorce situation he had been going through, but they were nevertheless afraid of him. The supervisor did not learn any more specifics about why they were afraid, except that he was short-tempered, ill-mannered, and spoke a lot about his guns (although, according to the coworkers, in a matter-of-fact rather than in an intimidating manner).

After getting ideas from the employee relations specialist and the EAP counselor, the supervisor sat down with the employee and discussed his behavior. He told the employee it was making everyone uncomfortable and that it must stop. He referred the employee to the EAP, setting a time and date to meet with the counselor.

Resolution

As a result of counseling by the supervisor and by the Employee Assistance Program counselor, the employee changed his behavior. He was unaware that his behavior was scaring people. He learned new ways from the EAP to deal with people. He accepted the EAP referral to a therapist in the community to address underlying personal problems. Continued monitoring by the supervisor showed the employee's conduct improving to an acceptable level and remaining that way.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. Do you agree with the agency's approach in this case?

  2. Can you think of other situations that would lend themselves to this kind of low-key approach?

  3. Does your agency have effective EAP training so that supervisors are comfortable in turning to the EAP for advice?

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