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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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Disruptive Behavior

The Incident

Several employees in an office went to their supervisor to report an unusual situation which had occurred the previous day. An agency employee from a different building had been in and out of their office over a seven-hour period, remarking to several people that "the Government" had kept her prisoner, inserted microphones in her head to hear what she was thinking, and tampered with her computer to feed her evil thoughts. She also said that her doctors diagnosed her as paranoid schizophrenic, but that they are wrong about her. She made inflammatory remarks about coworkers, and made threatening statements such as, Anybody in my old job who got in my way came down with mysterious illnesses.

Response

The Employee Relations specialist, who took the report, immediately informed the employee's supervisor about the incident. She learned from the employee's supervisor that until a few months ago, the employee performed adequately, but had always seemed withdrawn and eccentric. However, her behavior had changed (it was later learned that she had stopped taking her medication) and she often roamed around the office, spending an hour or more with any employee she could corner. Several employees had reported to the supervisor that they were afraid she might hurt them because of her inflammatory statements. She also learned that a former supervisor had previously given the employee a reprimand and two counseling memoranda for inappropriate language and absence from the worksite along with offering her leave for treatment as a reasonable accommodation.

Upon the recommendation of the employee relations specialist, the employee was placed on excused absence pending further agency inquiry and response, with a requirement to call in daily. The employee relations specialist, who was a trained investigator, conducted interviews with the employees who filed the reports and with the employee's coworkers. She found that most of the employees were afraid of the woman because of her inflammatory statements.

The employee relations specialist then set up a meeting with the woman's first-and second-line supervisor, the director of personnel, the legal office, the director of security, the agency's medical officer, and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor. The following options were raised:

  • Propose an indefinite suspension pending an investigation (option rejected because the agency already had all the information it needed about the incident).

  • Reassign or demote the employee to another office (option rejected because the reported conduct was too serious).

  • Propose a suspension based on her day-long frightening and disruptive comments and conduct (option rejected because the reported conduct was too serious).

  • Order a medical examination to determine whether the employee was fit for duty (option rejected because the employee was not in a position with medical standards or physical requirements).

  • Offer a medical examination (option rejected because supervisor already tried it several times).

  • Offer her leave for treatment (option rejected because supervisor already tried it).

The team recommended that the supervisor issue a proposal to remove based on the events in the other office, i. e., her day-long frightening and disruptive comments and conduct. They suggested that the notice also reference the earlier counseling memos and the reprimand which placed the employee on notice concerning her absence from her office and inappropriate behavior.

The supervisor proposed her removal. Three weeks later, the employee and her brother-in-law came in for her oral reply to the proposed notice. She denied making any of the statements attributed to her. Her brother-in-law asked the deciding official to order her to go for a psychiatric examination, but he was told that regulations prohibited the agency from doing so. The employee did not provide any additional medical documentation.

Resolution

The agency proceeded with a removal action based on her disruptive behavior. Once her brother-in-law realized that her salary and health benefits would soon cease, he was able to convince her to go to the hospital for the help she needed and to file for disability retirement. The agency assisted her in filing forms with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The disability retirement was approved by OPM and this provided her with income and a continuation of medical coverage.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. Do you agree with the agency's approach in handling this case?
  2. Does your employee training direct employees to call security or 911 in emergency situations?

  3. Is your team knowledgeable about accessing appropriate community resources for emergency situations?

  4. What if the employee had not been willing and able to apply for disability retirement herself? Do you know the rules concerning the agency's filing for disability retirement on behalf of the employee?

  5. Does your agency's supervisory training encourage early intervention in cases of this type?